Health Minister launches workforce appeal to help tackle hospital pressures in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Robin Swann has launched a new Workforce Appeal to help maintain important surgery this winter.

As the health service struggles to cope with some of the worst pressures ever experienced, the appeal aims to recruit individuals with the vital skills necessary to address the workforce deficit in specific areas of elective care.

Increased numbers of COVID-19 inpatients in hospital are having a significant impact on the ability to carry out elective operations as planned. This is in part due to the relocation of staffing resources from elective surgery services to critical care and COVID-19 wards.

The Minister (pictured) said: “Our health service and our health staff are under pressure as never before. The ongoing hospital pressures are having a critical impact on our ability to maintain planned services. We are seeing important surgery being cancelled every week due to the need to redeploy staff to meet unscheduled demand.

“As we move towards the winter period, an increasing number of patients are likely to require urgent or emergency care. Alongside this, we are continuing to deal with stubbornly high rates of COVID cases requiring hospitalisation. In practice, this means that while our hospitals are under massive pressure and we have thousands of patients waiting for treatment, there are theatres lying empty with no staff to deliver the service.

“I am therefore making an appeal to anyone with the skills and experience to support the delivery of surgery to come forward to help us make sure as many patients as possible can receive the treatment they need this winter.”

In addition, the Minister has asked the Chief Nursing Officer to lead work on an initiative to support and retain the nursing and midwifery workforce. A regional steering group is being established to focus on current recruitment and retention issues.

The Minister said: “Nurses and midwives are the single largest group of healthcare staff, comprising a third of our Health and Social Care (HSC) workforce and they are fundamental to the delivery of a sustainable services. They have given so much during this pandemic and we must do all we can to support them. That is why I have asked the Chief Nursing Officer to take forward a Regional Retention Initiative, to address the most immediate issues.”

The new Workforce Appeal is aimed particularly at staff who are fully skilled and have recently left the service, as well as those recently qualified and not currently working in the HSC. People from a wide range of staffing categories are needed, including medical, anaesthetics, nurses (theatre, recovery and ward experience will be essential) administrative, pharmacists and porters, for a temporary basis of approximately up to six months.

People who come forward will be posted to elective surgery hubs across Trusts where planned surgery can continue safely throughout this winter. These hubs will work to maintain as much elective surgery as possible in the coming months.

The Minister added: “The scale of the waiting lists in Northern Ireland already constitutes a crisis for the health service. If this winter continues as it has begun, there will be even greater pressures and that will have a serious impact on patients who are awaiting surgery.

“So we need to keep surgery going during what may be the most challenging period our health service has ever faced. If you see the appeal and think you have these skills, then we need your help to make sure as many patients as possible can receive the treatment they need this winter.”

The Workforce Appeal campaigns since April 2020 have achieved an overall combined recruitment total of 4,127, of which over 2,700 are Health & Social Care appointments.

Picture (c) Liam McBurney / PA.