Nursing shortages are affecting the quality of care in hospitals and care homes in Northern Ireland, warn regulators, who have highlighted their concerns to the UK’s Department of Health.
Lack of nurses has led to the closure of nursing homes and a greater reliance on temporary staff, which is affecting the continuity of care, said the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).
“RQIA has identified concerns relating to the impact of nursing shortages”
Meanwhile, vital record-keeping is falling by the wayside due to pressures on staff, said the body, which is responsible for inspecting the availability and quality of health and social care services in the country.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the regulator said it had officially notified the Department of Health about its concerns over the impact of nursing shortages seen first-hand by inspectors.
“In recent months, through our programme of inspections at hospitals, mental health and learning disability wards and nursing homes across Northern Ireland, RQIA has identified concerns relating to the impact of nursing shortages,” said the statement.
The body said that three small nursing homes had already closed in the last year, due to “the registered provider’s inability to recruit and retain registered nurses”.
This had resulted in the loss of 65 nursing home places in the Southern and Northern trust areas and other closures may follow, the regulator warned.
Regulator warns of nursing shortage in Northern Ireland
“RQIA considers that other small independent services are facing similar issues, which have the potential to lead to further closures,” said the statement.
Meanwhile, it highlighted that increased use of agency nursing staff was also a matter of concern.
“RQIA has also noted a reliance on agency nursing staff to fill gaps in nursing duty rotas, resulting in permanent staff spending time supporting agency staff who may be unfamiliar with the service,” it said.
“This impacts on the continuity of care for patients, who are reporting that they have observed nurses working under pressure,” said the statement.
“While we observe that care is generally being delivered, we have noted gaps in paperwork recording this care,” it said, confirming that it had taken its concerns to the Department of Health.
“Under legislation, RQIA has a duty to keep the Department of Health informed about any issue affecting the provision of services,” it said.
It stated: “As a result of our concerns, RQIA has notified the Department of Health of the impact of the shortage of nurses on the provision of health and social care services across Northern Ireland.”
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said: “The fact that the regulator has formally recognised that we do have a serious problem here is reassuring to the profession.
“The college has been raising concerns around safety and effective nurse staffing for some time and to nurses it would appear that people aren’t as concerned about that as they should be,” she said.