Massive explosion in use of agency temps to keep NHS running

There has been a vast explosion in the amount of money used to pay for agency workers to fill posts in the Province’s NHS.

Monday, 28th June 2021, 6:00 am
The remarkable figures were uncovered thanks to a question by DUP MLA Keith Buchanan (Mid Ulster)

The sums were revealed thanks to an Assembly question to the health minister Robin Swann, posed by DUP MLA Keith Buchanan.

His enquiry revealed that by comparing 2016/17 against 2020/21, the total amount of money now being used each year to pay for agency staff stands at more than double what it did just five years earlier.

Every single trust saw an incremental year-on-year rise over those five years, so this jump is not some one-off anomaly.

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And for some individual trusts – like the one running the Ambulance Service – the figures were vastly higher still.

> During that period, the Ambulance Service’s annual spending on temps grew from just under £618,000 to £5.2 million;

> In the Belfast Trust, the numbers went from £43.2m to £95.3m;

> In the Northern Trust, the numbers went from £27.5m to £50.7m;

> In the South Eastern Trust, the numbers went from £17.6m to £36.1m;

> In the Southern Trust, the numbers went from £21m to £5o.7m;

> And in the Western Trust, the numbers went from £24.8m to £44.3m.

> This all means that, over all six trusts combined, this spending rose from £134,747,037 in 2016/17 to £282,248,445 in 2020/21.

It all comes against a backdrop of an NHS system which has been barely able to tread water over the last several years, with waiting lists that were already long being stretched further and further every quarter, and core targets being missed as a matter of routine.

The British Medical Association’s Northern Irish branch was asked about the figures.

Its chairman for the region Dr Tom Black said: “The costs of using agency staff have been increasing for a number of years, for a number of reasons, but long term employing agency staff is not a solution to the problem of un-filled shifts, and is taking money from other areas of the health service.

“Agency work offers people more flexibility and often better rates of pay.

“Therefore what we need to do is to ensure rates of pay are standardised, and that there is more flexibility and autonomy for health care workers so they don’t leave the NHS...

“We also need to look at the number of doctors being trained, where the gaps are in particular specialities and make sure that we have more training places so we have enough doctors for the population and to cover the increasing health needs across Northern Ireland.”

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