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Northern Ireland health care - could you be up for the challenge?

Northern Ireland health care - could you be up for the challenge?

Clearly, there are concerns about the state of health care in Northern Ireland. Depending on which report you read, or which union or governing body you follow, the story changes. But all would agree that healthcare in NI needs good, qualified health care staff who are up for the challenge.

A recent statement from the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) highlights concerns about a lack of consultants in hospitals across Northern Ireland. Reports suggest that up to 95 consultants are missing with 20 needed at the Royal Victoria Hospital alone. In Antrim, half the positions needed are in the A&E department.

There is some debate about why these health care jobs Ireland needs are unfilled; the SDLP claim the Northern Health Trust (NHT) is cost-cutting and the NHT refutes this entirely. They blame a lack of trained doctors and claims it is a problem across the nation of Ireland. Managers within the health service itself feel it is due to the high-pressure nature of the area which deters applicants.

Whilst this logistical conversation was unfolding, a 77-year-old man with Motor Neurone Disease and a chest infection died on a trolley in the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) after waiting nearly 24 hours for medical attention. The BBC reports that particular shift being described as 'a cattle market' due to the number of patients waiting in corridors on trolleys. The family of the man stressed that they had only “admiration” for the staff who were “working in horrendous circumstances”.

The director of the Royal College of Nursing cited a near-unmanageable strain on the heath care workers at the RVH A&E. A member of the public talking to the BBC reported nurses having to care for up to 8 patients at once.

Due to the Belfast City Hospital (BCH) A&E departments closing in November, patients are now instead being routed to the RVH. Trade union representatives warned in October that this would be a real problem and the RVH itself estimated an extra subsequent 30,000 visitors. The NHT denies that the BCH closure has anything to do with the increase in visitors or this following tragic death.

The recent Compton Report, reviewing health and social care in Northern Ireland, noted a growing population, poorer health in chronic conditions and systemic instability were likely to cause poor consequences; notably, poorer care and health outcomes and failing the workforce.

One of the real concerns within the Compton Report related to this recent terrible shortcoming at the RVH. The Royal College of Surgeons noted that fragmented emergency surgical set-ups will have a negative impact on patient health outcomes and the report goes on to state that scarce staffing is preventing reliable senior medical cover.

The BMA's Council in Northern Ireland described the idea of maintaining “top-flight A&Es” as “untenable”, stating that “Reconfiguration... is currently happening by crisis rather than by taking difficult decisions”.

Part of the reason for this given by the Compton Report is a continued reliance on hospitals rather than provision of more local services. Unsurprisingly, within the Report's “Suggestions for Improvement”, the idea of not closing A&E departments and instead making more local options available is present.

So what does this mean for the state of health care jobs Ireland has to offer? If the NHT are to be believed, there are jobs available; they're just need qualified people to apply.

Talk to the trade unions, the BMA's Council for Ireland and the SDLP and you hear a different story. Talk emerges of overworked, time-poor and desperate staff in working environments.

How you feel about this depends on you. Workers with a heavy load outside of work probably would prefer to avoid such stressful work-life – you have enough going on without taking on the challenges of a limping health care system. But if you're a driven, life-long-learning, high-energy worker who thrives on improvements, challenges and implementing the very best practice you can offer, Northern Ireland's current health care environment might be just what you're looking for.

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