Cost of locum doctors and agency nurses double in five years

Part of October's Bengoa Report recommended changes improve staffing levels
Andrew Madden

AN MLA has said there is a “very serious crisis” in primary healthcare after it emerged that the amount spent on locum doctors and agency nurses in the last five years has doubled.

In response, the department of health has agreed that rising temporary staffing costs are "no longer financially sustainable in the short to medium term".

In 2015/2016, the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland spent a total of £46.1million on temporary doctors – five years ago this figure stood at £23.2m.

The amount spent on agency nurses over the same period stood at £3.1m in 2011/2012, but increased to £6.7m this year.

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust saw the biggest price hike in both categories. Temporary doctors alone cost the Trust £3m five years ago, compared to £7.8m now - an increase of 127 per cent.

These figures were released in response to an assembly question tabled by SDLP MLA Colin McGrath.

Mr McGrath said the figures are a reflection of the current problems facing the health service.

“The explosion in the use of agency staff and locum GPs points to a very serious crisis in primary care provision in communities across the north,” he said.

“People see the result every day when they have to wait longer for a GP appointment, longer for dental appointments, longer for routine surgery. And it has a very serious impact on quality of life for so many across our communities."

The SDLP has proposed for a medical school to be set up in the northwest in order to train more GPs and primary care staff.

In October, health minister Michelle O'Neill put forward a 10-year plan for the health service which included several measures to improve staffing levels.

According to the health minister's plan, annual GP recruitment will be increased to 111, with an extra 12 and then 14 in the following years.

The report also stated that £83 million would eventually be transferred from hospitals to GP and other services.

A health department spokesperson said that while temporary staff are necessary to provide an effective service, it is a policy aim to "endeavour to reduce expenditure across all areas of agency, locum and bank staff given that the rising costs mean the use of agency and locum staff is no longer financially sustainable in the short to medium term."

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