Figures reveal rise in staff vacancies across NI health trusts over past year
New figures obtained by UTV have uncovered a startling situation when it comes to the staffing needs of Northern Ireland's under-pressure health system.
Across the five health trusts, when the vacancy rate between September 2021 and September 2022 is compared, it shows the number of roles being recruited has risen by over 1,600.
Overall the workforce shortage is almost 7,000, around the size of the population of Newcastle in Co Down.
It's a situation which experts say will cause the health service to buckle.
Dr Alan Stout from BMA Northern Ireland said: "It's really worrying, at a time when we need to be increasing our workforce, we need to make sure we have the workforce that's there to be able to respond and we need it to be at the right place, at the right time.
"You can't deliver any service if you don't have staff."
According to the RCN, better pay and conditions in the private sector are tempting staff to leave the health service.
Rita Devlin, acting director at RCN Northern Ireland, said: "Agency has nearly become an employer of choice, because you can pick and choose your shifts and you get more money for the same hours.
"We've always have had a young cohort of nurses who, once qualified and maybe do a year's work here, will go to Australia for a couple of years.
John Compton, former chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board.
"That has to be factored into our workforce plan.
"But the thing we need to do - and I don't think we're doing it well - is we need to make it attractive for them to come home, and I don't see that happening at the minute."
The depletion in the workforce is making it difficult to discharge patients from hospital wards, which is causing blockages in emergency departments.
In a statement, department of health said it has been supporting the health and social care system by expanding training places and prioritisng additional recruitment.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.