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Slow growth in Northern Ireland nursing workforce continues

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The number of full-time nursing staff working for the NHS in Northern Ireland in risen by 380 over the last year, according to latest workforce figures.

The health and social care workforce census shows that in March this year there were 19,013 whole-time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff employed by the NHS, compared to 18,633 in 2015.

The number of whole-time equivalent qualified nursing and midwifery staff increased in Northern Ireland by nearly 320 from 14,614 in 2015 to 14,932.9 in 2016.

The figures, published today, shows a continuing trend of annual increases since 2011 – averaging around 250 extra registered nurses and midwives each year across the period.

In contrast, workforce trends for healthcare assistants have fluctuated much more over the last five years, with small dips follow by small increases and vice versa.

Over the last year, the number of nursing support staff rose from 4,019.1 to 4,080.3, an increase of around just 60.

However, in spite of the general upwards trend shown by the census, unions have raised concerns that the nursing workforce in Northern Ireland continues to face a significant shortfall in numbers.

The Royal College of Nursing warned in February – the month before the census was taken – that there were high levels of vacancies across the NHS and the independent sector, with demand for nursing staff “outstripping supply”.

There was a “significant over-reliance” on the supply of nursing staff through banks and agencies, said RCN’s Northern Ireland office in evidence submitted to the NHS Pay Review Body 2016-17.

Nursing staff in Northern Ireland were more likely than colleagues in England, Scotland or Wales to cite increases in workload, unfilled vacancies and recruitment freezes in their workplace, it said.

As normal, the census showed that the largest grouping among registered staff were acute and general nurses, with 7,954.8 whole-time equivalents.

In comparison, there were 1,592.8 whole-time equivalents described as mental health nurses and 411.6 learning disability nurses.

Meanwhile, there were 856.3 full-time district nurses, 479.7 health visitors – including students – and just 112 school nurses.

In addition, there were 1,089.9 full-time midwives – including students – and 770.3 paediatric nurses.

Belfast Health and Social Care Trust was the largest employer of nursing and midwifery staff, with 33% of the overall whole-time equivalents.

The other four regional trusts employed between 15% and 17%, and less than 1% were employed by the regional services.

According to an age breakdown of the figures, the overall proportion of nursing and midwifery staff aged under 40 was 39%.

The youngest groups were paediatric nurses, with 54% under 40, and acute or general nurses, with 47% under 40. The group with the largest proportion of staff over 50 were midwives, at 40%.

The vast majority, 92%, of nursing and midwifery employees were female, of which 55% worked full-time.

A higher proportion of male nurse, 90%, worked full-time. Also, as expected, male staff were more highly represented among mental health nurses.

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