The largest health board in Wales, already finding it difficult to fill vacancies, is preparing for more serious staff shortages.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which covers North Wales, has almost 17,000 employees but nearly 4,000 of them are over 55 years of age and expected to retire in the next few years.

A report to be considered at a joint meeting of the Board and the North Wales Community Health Council this week reveals the scale of the problem in retaining and attracting staff

Laurence Osgood, associate director of workforce, performance and improvement, says the overall vacancy rate is lower than last year but it remains high in two key areas – medical and dental (8.6 per cent), and nursing and midwifery (11.8 per cent).

Vacancies are also proving hard to fill in specialisms including GPs, general surgery, rheumatology, care of the elderly, radiology, gastroenterology and obstetrics and gynaecology.

“In addition the number of new doctors - aged under 30 and who qualified in the UK – joining the General Medical Council register continues to fall annually,” says the report.

“Recruitment to these staff groups is difficult within the wider context of a healthcare staffing environment that will remain very challenging in the near future, highlighting the importance of retaining existing staff.

Of the 3,983 staff over 55 1,058 are nursing and midwifery staff and 224 medical and dental.

The likelihood of staff retiring over that age is increased because many have "special classes" pension provision, and though some return they do so on reduced hours.

To help analyse the situation exit interviews are carried out with employees who leave.

Of those interviewed across the region the most positive feedback was that they felt that management welcomed their ideas, that they could influence change and that they received sufficient training.

The highest negative feedback was that departmental morale was low, that they had encountered violence or aggression and that the workload was unmanageable.