Healthcare shortages 'need to be tackled urgently', says UFU

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​By Staff Reporter

​The Ulster Farmers’ Union has raised concerns about the state of the Northern Ireland healthcare system. With staff shortages putting services under immense pressure, the care of rural people “is being hit the hardest as a result”, the union has said.

UFU deputy president, William Irvine, commented: “The temporary suspension of the emergency general surgery at the South West Acute Hospital is ongoing with no updates or indication if or when the service will be reinstated and, more recently, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust announced changes to maternity services at the Causeway Hospital - births will no longer take place here.”

In the past year, 14 GP practices, mostly in rural areas, have returned their contracts to the Department of Health and the UFU understands that 30 more practices are on the ‘brink’ of doing the same.

'Healthcare shortages need to be tackled urgently', says UFU.'Healthcare shortages need to be tackled urgently', says UFU.
'Healthcare shortages need to be tackled urgently', says UFU.

Mr Irvine continued: “Healthcare professionals are not machines and with so many of their colleagues resigning, they’re being put under immense pressure, overworked and burnt out.

“The Department of Health needs to step up and do more to protect its staff as well as rural patients. They’re not being challenged in any shape or form to address the staff shortages and get things under control. Trying to sustain services temporarily is not a solution. It’s costly for the taxpayer, unsustainable in the long term and untimely, long-term funding plans need to be agreed.”

He went on: “On the behalf of rural people in NI, and with no political avenue to express our concerns, we’re backing calls to prioritise and incentivise rural recruitment and retention.

“We have fantastic healthcare facilities and rural locations for family living, which coupled together, have the potential to offer a great way of life for healthcare professionals.

“Work life balance and professional support is critically important and the opportunity is there for healthcare providers and rural communities to collaborate and attract staff to work in rural areas.

“This mimics successful approaches in other countries and UFU are already supporting initiatives to encourage this.”

Mr Irvine said the “acuity of the situation cannot be overemphasised”.

He added: “On a global stage, we’re failing to promote what we have on our doorstep. We need to be doing more to compete against recruitment drives from countries such as Australia, because at present, we’re losing too many young, talented professionals. Many of whom have chosen to settle abroad with their families.

“Staff shortages is an issue that can be resolved but it requires sustained investment and reform, drive and a collective effort,” concluded Mr Irvine.