Just over 1,000 nurses are recruited each year locally despite more than 2,300 vacancies and the system being increasingly reliant on agency workers.
t has led to calls for action from a nursing union and MLAs.
It comes after it emerged the Department of Health spent around £89m on nursing and midwifery agency staff last year.
Over the last five years a total of £838m has gone towards temporary workers.
In the five years to April 2020, 5,708 nurses were registered, including 1,393 in 2019/20. A further 336 midwives were registered in that five-year period.
The latest Department of Health workforce bulletin showed more than 2,300 nursing vacancies as of December.
Last May Health Minister Robin Swann announced that Executive funding is in place to secure an additional 300 nursing and midwifery undergraduate places.
Rita Devlin, acting director of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, said she hopes that the additional student nursing places will “go some way to bring about a long-term solution to our workforce problems”.
“We are also working in partnership with the chief nursing officer and director of nursing at the Public Health Agency to examine solutions to improve nursing recruitment and retention,” she added.
“In the short-term we need to ensure that we have a robust retention strategy to retain the nursing staff we have. Nurses need to feel valued for the work they do, they need to be involved in the development of plans to rebuild services and they need to be properly paid.
“The RCN has also been clear that, as a matter of urgency, we need to develop a career framework for nursing that values and rewards clinical practice and where a clinical career is seen as equally as important as a managerial career.”
Ms Devlin said, moving forward, a clear workforce strategy and the implementation of safe staffing legislation will be crucial in tackling the continuing high level of vacancies.
Independent MLA Claire Sugden said: “Clearly there is a huge shortfall in the number of nurses we have working in the NHS here. Recruitment is key to resolving this issue. But in order to make salaried positions more attractive to trained nurses and those considering nursing training, the issue of pay and conditions needs resolved.
“Without this, we risk seeing more staff leaving and fewer joining. Action needs taken now.”
The Department of Heallth said it is committed to sustained investment in growing the local nursing and midwifery workforce to meet ever increasing demands. It pointed to the confirmation of additional nursing and midwifery training places.
“This unprecedented level of intake will be in maintained for a minimum of a further two years after which an additional 900 trainee nurses will have been commissioned under New Decade, New Approach,” it said.