‘Staggering’ £27m bill for locums prompts call for urgent action

Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.
Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.

SDLP health spokesperson Mark H. Durkan has described as ‘staggering’ the revelation by the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) that it spent over £27m on expensive locum and agency staff last year.

Mr. Durkan has suggested long-term solutions are urgently needed to help the peripheral health authority reduce its structural reliance on non-staff doctors.

He was reacting to figures obtained by the ‘Journal’ which show that in 2017/18 WHSCT footed a £27,069,946 agency staff bill.

The vast majority of this - £16,554,428 in total - was paid out for locum doctors and dentists.

The Western Trust has revealed that during the last financial year it employed almost as many temporary medical and dental specialists as it did permanent staff - 300 versus 309 respectively.

Responding to the revelations Mr. Durkan said: “The latest figures are staggering and reinforce the need for urgent reform within the health service.

“The employment of costly agency staff underscores how unsustainable the current system is.

“This is money which would be better invested in to a permanent workforce. Intervention from the Department of Health is necessary, to make it easier for the Western Trust area in particular, to recruit and retain medical specialists, which would negate the need for locum expenditure and in turn tackle the ever-present issue of waiting lists.”

Mr. Durkan acknowledged that the problem was structural and that quick fixes would not suffice.

He said the development of a facility to train doctors in Derry could help encourage them to stay and work here.

“This issue demands long-term solutions; whether that’s establishing a medical school in the North West or enhancing north-south collaboration.

“We have a wealth of talented people leaving here to take up permanent medical positions elsewhere, our focus should be trying to bring those people back home.

“The situation is glaring evidence of the lack of workforce planning right across the health service over a number of years. It would be major concern of mine and should be a major consideration of others, that Brexit will compound this situation even further; unnerving existing staff and making it more difficult to attract others here,” he said.

On top of the £16,554,428 locum doctor bill £3,571,682 was paid out for agency nurses, £567,641 for agency allied health professionals, and £6,376,195 for other agency staff.