As Northern Ireland prepares for the Covid-19 surge, a concerted push is underway to recruit former health professionals back into the health and social care workforce.

The drive covers staff groups across the full range of disciplines and comes alongside initiatives to deploy medical, social work and nursing students.

The measures together have the potential to add over 5,000 to the health and social care workforce.

Chief Nursing Officer, Professor Charlotte McArdle, said, ‘These are extraordinary times and we need to take extraordinary measures. Staff across the health and social care system are working intensively in preparation for the Covid-19 surge. We have to give them all the support we can including bolstering the workforce in every way feasible.

‘I want to thank staff for their amazing commitment. I know they are heartened by the scale of the public support and the heartfelt appreciation of what they are doing.

‘Of course, the best way to demonstrate support for health and social care staff is to follow the public health guidance on hygiene and social distancing. That means washing our hands repeatedly each day and keeping our distance from each other, however difficult that may be.

‘By following this guidance, we are fighting back against Covid-19, protecting older and vulnerable people, and protecting both the health service and all who work in it.’

Professor McArdle added, ‘The enthusiasm already being shown for these recruitment initiatives is very heartening.

‘I know nursing, midwifery, AHP, social work and medical students will have concerns. I want them to know they will be supported by their colleagues. These young people are the future of our health service. They are valued and needed by the HSC and we really appreciate their contribution and dedication.’

Initiatives include:

  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Health and Care Professions Council have written to those who have given up their registration within the last three years. They will be invited to return onto an emergency register under emergency provisions. This includes physiotherapy, radiography, occupational therapy nursing and midwifery professionals
  • The General Medical Council has written out to over 500 Northern Ireland doctors who have left the register and given up their licence to practice. The letter advises them of the intention to rejoin them provisionally onto the register under emergency provisions in the Medical Act. We are hoping that many of these will make their expertise and experience available to help deliver care across health and social care and support their former colleagues during the anticipated surge in activity
  • Third year nursing and midwifery students within the last six months of qualifying will be redeployed to clinical care. This will happen imminently and will provide support of senior nursing and midwifery students and AHPs. Furthermore plans are being prepared for 2nd year nursing, midwifery and AHP students to play their part in this emergency situation. There are 880 third year students and 1,000 in second year
  • Arrangements are being made for Final Year Medical Students who are just about to complete their degree at QUB, to have the opportunity to join the provisional medical register (rather than waiting until August 20) so that they too can begin to support clinical teams over this period
  • Employers across the trusts are also urgently investigating the opportunity to deploy, on a voluntary basis, the approximately 500 3rd and 4th year medical students, who have been withdrawn from the clinical placements under their medical degree course, in some form of Temporary Medical Student Technician role. This will be a means of supplementing our workforce, and also give these medical students the opportunity to contribute their skills during the pressures in the anticipated surge
  • Northern Ireland is part of a joint NHS-wide recruitment appeal to AHP (Allied Health Professions) registrants who have not retained their professional registration over the past three years to rejoin their respective register. These include physiotherapy, radiography and occupational therapy professionals.  There are 458 AHPs in Northern Ireland in this category
  • Recently-retired pharmacists will be contacted in the coming days to ask them to come back to practice.  In addition the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer has e-mailed every pharmacist in Northern Ireland to ask them to sign up to locum work to help community pharmacists under pressure
  • The Northern Ireland Social Care Council has made changes to expedite applications.  A new streamlined registration form will be available on the portal from Monday 23rd March – less than five mins to complete the online form
  • Final year social work students will qualify early on 4th May 2020 and will be able to enter the HSC workforce as social workers with immediate effect. Other social work students will be invited to join the social care workforce during the CoVID-19 response
  • The Care Council is writing to all social workers who have retired or left the register in the last three years to invite them to join the register and to re-enter the workforce to assist at this critical time