There is no disguising the fact that there is a major Nursing shortage across the whole of the UK. It is said that in the public sector alone, there is a shortage of at least 2,000 Nurses in Northern Ireland, and a massive 20,000 in England, but it gets worse. When you consider that almost 30% of Nurses registered in the UK are aged over 50, with the RCN even suggesting that almost 50% of the workforce will be eligible for retirement in 2020, where do we find replacements for those approaching retirement age, let alone to fill the already massive void?
Can we rely on the steady stream of overseas Nurses?
Figures suggest that overseas Nurses already contribute to 13% of all Nurses in the NHS, with over a quarter of the new recruits in the last 12 months coming from overseas.
The UK’s decision to leave the EU can only have a negative effect on attracting Nurses to the UK, with the uncertainty over possible visa and sponsorship requirements, which will in turn massively increase the cost of recruiting Nurses from abroad.
Newly qualified Nurses?
The governments’ short sighted decision to introduce tuition fees, and replace the NHS bursary with a student loan in England has had an immediate impact on applications to study Nursing, with a fall of 9,990 applications from 2016 to 2017. Given the number of applications from 2016 was 43,800, that is a fall of 23%.
The Nursing bursary is still available in Northern Ireland but for how long, I am unsure. It offers Northern Ireland and non-UK EEA nationals £430.42 per month as well as paid tuition fees for the 3 years of the Nursing Degree.
Although the bursary is still available in Northern Ireland, the changes in England will still have an effect on the amount of students from Northern Ireland applying for Nursing, as a lot of local students apply to study right across the UK, but will more than likely be put off by the massive debt facing them if they choose to study in England.
The NHS already relies heavily on temporary agency cover. Figures from 2015 – 2016 show that the NHS spend on agency staff was £3.7 billion. This does include Doctors, Nurses, and support staff, but is still an incredible figure, after apparent crackdowns on agency use.
We cannot blame the agency staff for wanting the higher rates offered by temp agencies, but if the NHS genuinely wants to make a concerted effort to reduce agency spend, they must look at how they can attract permanent Nurses to the NHS and keep them there. Increases to basic rates of pay might be a start, as well as some level of flexibility in regards to contracts and working hours for staff whose personal circumstances dictate their availability. Over the last few months I have spoken to a number of Nurses who have had to leave the NHS to secure a position offering the flexibility they required to continue working but also fulfil the demands of their home life. Agency shifts offer this flexibility, but there must be more effort made by the NHS to accommodate the needs of their employees.
How can Northern Ireland compete to attract Nurses?
There is no denying that the Nurse shortage is a deepening crisis across the entire UK, and there seems to be no easy fix, but when push comes to shove we have to find ways to look after ourselves and market Northern Ireland to Nurses, especially overseas Nurses planning on relocating to the UK. So how can we stand out?
This is where Northern Ireland can try to really get the jump on other locations around the UK. For most industries the average salaries in Northern Ireland are considerably lower than in mainland UK and Ireland, but this does not apply to Nursing.
A quick scroll through the job websites shows that we are offering extremely competitive salaries with Nursing Home vacancies paying up to £17.50 per hour, with paid breaks. Even in the likes of London, Nursing Home vacancies seem to vary from anywhere between £14 and £18 per hour. Public sector salaries in mainland UK are set slightly higher than ours, but it doesn’t do much to offsets the difference in living costs explained below.
Taking the most extreme comparison and looking at living costs in London compared to those in Belfast, it is on average 33% more expensive for your general living costs in London before even taking into consideration your rent. The average rent for a one bedroom apartment in London is a staggering £1,772, with even a room to rent being £771 per month. Now compare this to a one bedroom apartment in Belfast which averages £472 per month, and you can see why it is favourable to overseas Nurses to choose Northern Ireland.
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