Ex-Health Minister concerned for future of the elderly over shortage of nurses in NI

Stock image of a nursing home
Stock image of a nursing home

A shortage of nurses in Northern Ireland must be addressed to ensure there are enough places at care homes for the elderly, a former health minister has said.

DUP MLA Edwin Poots, who was the Stormont health minister from 2011-2014, was speaking after the owners of Drumclay Care Home in Enniskillen announced this week that the home will have to close due to an inability to recruit enough qualified nurses.

The Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, has also warned that the nursing shortage must be solved in order to ensure “there will be a range of care home settings available” to elderly people who might need them.

The owners of Drumclay Care Home, announcing the likely closure, said: “The sole reason for this closure is due to our ongoing inability to recruit the quality and quantity of skilled and experienced nursing staff required.”

Edwin Poots said the nursing shortage has been a long time in the making.

“It goes back at least 10 years,” he said. “There hasn’t been enough nurses trained to replenish the nurses who are leaving.”

He continued: “More than the training of nurses, the problem we have, I think, is the retention of nurses. They’re leaving. There are a number of reasons for that, not least the pressure they are being put under. They feel constantly under pressure.”

Mr Poots added: “I think we could do more to retain these highly skilled people by showing more care towards them. We’re losing them hand over fist.”

There had been recruitment campaigns to bring nurses in from overseas in recent years, Mr Poots said, but these had been less successful than hoped due to competition from other parts of the world facing nursing shortages of their own.

The older people’s commissioner, Eddie Lynch, said: “I am aware that there are a number of initiatives attempting to increase the nursing workforce and it’s essential that this work not only succeeds in addressing current concerns but also in developing a sustainable workforce in the longer term.

“This is vital if older people are to be assured that there will be a range of care home settings available.”