Money paid to nursing agency trebles in three years

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Nearly £12 million was spent hiring staff through a single nursing agency by Northern Ireland’s five health trusts in a single year — a figure that has trebled in three years.

A total of £11,562,158 was paid to the Scottish Nursing Guild in the 2017/18 financial year, compared to £3,872,008 in 2015/16.

Nurses employed by agencies are often paid at a significantly higher rate than nurses employed directly by the five health trusts.

Agency nurses are often drafted in to cover staff shortages.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust paid the highest amount to the Scottish Nursing Guild last year, the BBC report, with a total spend of £4.2m.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told the BBC: “Trusts employ agency/locum staff for several reasons, for example, cover for sickness and maternity/paternity leave; cover for existing vacancies; and when demand increases over the winter months. The primary aim of this is to ensure that safe and effective services are sustained at all times for patients and clients.”

The spokesperson told the BBC the department recognises that “increasing agency and locum costs are not sustainable, particularly at a time of serious financial pressures right across the public sector.”

“This is why transformation of health and social care in Northern Ireland is such a priority,” the spokesperson continued.

“The Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026: Delivering for Our People, which was published by the Department in May 2018, sets out ambitious goals for a workforce that will match the requirements of a transformed system addressing the need to tackle serious challenges with supply, recruitment and retention of staff.

“In the meantime, maintaining services with safe staffing levels occasionally requires us to use higher-cost agency staff.”