Locum, agency bill in Western Trust £15.9m in first 6 months of 2019/20; 1,111 staff vacancies in health authority

Over £15,991,251 was spent on locum doctors and agency nurses in the Western Trust over the first six months of this financial year.

Tuesday, 28th January 2020, 6:00 pm

New figures released by the Health Minister Robin Swann show the cost of agency staff continues to rise.

Between April 1, 2019 and September 30, 2019, £11,467,118 was spent on Medical and Dental agency staff in the Western Trust, the highest expenditure incurred in any area.

Over the same six month period a further £4,524,133 was spent on Nursing and Midwifery agency staff.

The figures for the final quarter of 2019 are not yet available, Mr. Swann stated.

With close to £16m already having been spent by the start of October it looks likely the overall locum and agency bill this year will be close to that incurred in 2018/19, which was £27,719,021.

And it is an escalating problem according to further data released by Mr. Swann, which shows the amount of cash spent on locum doctors in the Western Trust doubled over the past five years, from £10,569,863 in 2014/15 to £20,656,870 in 2018/19.

Expenditure on agency nurses and midwifes has also risen sharply, from £2,799,372 in 2014/15 to £7,062,151 in 2018/19.

The Department, the Health and Social Care Board, the Western Trust and the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) have all recognised the recruitment and retention of staff is a particular issue in the peripheral western counties of Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh.

In its last annual report, the Western Trust stated that the cost of locum staff was rising at a considerable rate.

“Medical locum costs have been increasing significantly year on year since 2013/14 and costs have increased by 24 per cent in 2018/19 compared to the previous year,” the report stated.

And in an report last year the Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said: “The very high dependence on locums by the Northern and Western Trusts illustrates the particular difficulties they have in recruiting staff in some specialties and grades, and also the limited mobility which is apparent among many local doctors, who prefer to work in the greater Belfast area.”

According to the latest data from the Department of Health, many medical and nursing posts still need to be filled. There were 1,111 vacancies being actively recruited for in the Western Trust at the end of September 2019.

That’s close to double the 685 vacancies that were due to be filled in September 2018.

Sinn Féin spokesperson for health and the chair of the Health Committee Colm Gildernew MLA has called on the Department of Health to address agency spend.

“The increasing amounts of money being spent on agency staff is a symptom of a workforce crisis. The Department of Health needs to bring forward a detailed workforce strategy that will begin to address these vacancies in the Health and Social Care system in the immediate and medium term,” he said.