NI health workers ‘anxious’ over recruitment of EU colleagues post-Brexit

Health care staff in Northern Ireland are uncertain and concerned about the ability to retain and hire EU colleagues post-Brexit.

Nurses and doctors who live across the Irish border but currently work in the region are “anxious” and want reassurance, the findings of a workforce engagement exercise found.

The feedback was among the key findings of an initiative undertaken to help inform a new strategy for health care staff in Northern Ireland.

The plan to modernise workplace policies and procedures is designed to accompany the ongoing programme of reform of health service delivery in Northern Ireland.

The Workforce Strategy 2026: Delivering for Our People, which was launched on Monday, has a stated ambition to address challenges with supply, recruitment and retention of staff.

In regard to Brexit, one of the strategy’s objectives is: “Take account of and plan for the workforce implications arising from the UK’s exit from the EU and the subsequent implications for the EU/EEA (European Economic Area) and non-EU/EEA workforce.”

The Department of Health strategy’s launch came as it was confirmed how £15 million of a £100 million pot already allocated for health service transformation in 2018/19 will be spent.

Around £5 million will be directed towards the nursing, midwifery and Allied Health Professional workforce.

This will include funding for 74 additional pre-registration nursing places, and 25 additional midwifery places, meaning a total of 1000 nursing and midwifery training places are being commissioned from universities in 2018/19 – a total the department said represents an all-time high in Northern Ireland.

The transformation funding will also support other training investment in nursing, midwifery, nursing assistants, physiotherapy, radiography, paramedics and medical specialties.

Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: “Health and social care colleagues work tirelessly to provide the care needed by patients and other service users.

“The system could not run without the skill, dedication and commitment of our talented, hard-working colleagues, across all disciplines, professions and levels.

“We therefore owe it to them, and to the people of Northern Ireland, to address the workforce issues that need to be fixed. And we need to ensure that we aren’t just fixing the problems from 2006 or 2016. We need to look forward to 2026.

“The investment announced today is certainly welcome and will make an important difference. The workforce challenges are certainly not unique to Northern Ireland and resolving them is a long-term task, inextricably linked to the need to transform the way we deliver services.”

More than 122,000 people work in health and social care in Northern Ireland, including the public, private and voluntary sectors. Around £2.3 billion a year is spent employing those who work in the public sector.

Key targets outlined in the 2026 strategy include:

  • Explore and establish non-salary incentive programmes as a means of recruiting and/or retaining people and/or dealing with pressures in less popular specialties and locations.
  • Set up and roll out a regional health and social care careers service targeted at the existing workforce, young people from the age of 14, and possible returners to service.
  • Develop and integrate new ways of working and jobs across health and social care, and fund sustainable training and development programmes that meet service needs.
  • Adopt and roll out new regional staff health and wellbeing policy and invest more in occupational health services
  • Co-produce a regional work-life balance policy for health and social care workers.
  • Simplify employment arrangements, including examining whether a single employer for all HSC staff is feasible and will produce benefits for staff/patients/ clients.

Mr Pengelly added: “This strategy recognises that we need to meet the challenge of making the Northern Ireland health and social care sector an employer of choice, by ensuring that the service is fully staffed, well-trained, and that workers can balance their work around the other commitments in their lives.

“This is much easier said than done, but there is no alternative other than to ensure that we address these issues so that by 2026, we have the health and social care service that meets all of our needs.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Lynne Cameron / PA Wire.