The healthcare regulator in Northern Ireland, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), has formally notified the Department of Health (DH) in Northern Ireland that there is a shortage of nurses across community and hospital services.
The watchdog has claimed that the DH in Northern Ireland is failing in almost every department that it has inspected.
After inspecting hospitals and nursing homes, the RQIA found that there were problems with staff levels in most areas, with a reliance on bank and agency staff and low morale common themes across inspections.
The RQIA’s chief executive, Olive Macleod, told the BBC that this is a ‘significant message for the DH’.
She said: ‘We as the regulator inspect health and social care organisations across Northern Ireland and where we find failings or there are concerns we must flag it to the department, and on this occasion we did flag it.
‘We are beginning to see big gaps in rotas and nursing home settings and this potentially will have an impact on care.’
The department has responded by acknowledging that there is a shortage, and that the current situation is not sustainable in the long term. It intends to conduct a workforce review to address the problem.
A spokesperson said: ‘Workforce pressures are one of the deep-seated challenges facing health and social care – challenges that can only be fully addressed through transformation of the system’.
Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, said the college had been raising these concerns for some time.
‘The fact that the regulator has formally recognised that we do have a serious problem here is reassuring to the profession,’ she said.
‘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’.