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The HSE spent nearly €1 million a day on agency staff last year

Critics of the HSE recruitment embargo said far more was being spent on agency staff while others waited to start staff roles.

Image: Shutterstock/Hadrian

THE HEALTH SERVICE Executive (HSE) spent at least over €300 million on agency staff last year, and was on course to exceed the €318 million it spent the previous year.

In the first 11 months of last year, a total of €305.17 million was spent on agency staff across the health service with University Hospital Limerick and Naas General Hospital spending in excess of €10 million each.

Agency staff in hospitals and other parts of the HSE aren’t employees of the health service. They work for an external agency and the HSE pays far more for the use of agency staff than it pays for their own employees. 

The spend of approximately €913,000 a day follows the trend of recent years of high agency spending within the HSE. 

The spending on agency staff in the past decade has more than doubled, and the increase in 2018 was the largest since 2014.

The figures were released to Sinn Féin TD and health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly via parliamentary question. 

Between January and November last year, €148 million was spent on agency staff in hospitals, while a further €157 million was spent on agency staff in community health organisations.

Across both areas, €87 million was spent under the criteria of medical/dental. This includes the likes of doctors, GPs and dentists. 

A further €72 million was spent on agency nursing staff. Administrative agency staff cost over €17 million while support staff cost €102 million.

Agency spend across the health service has increased year-on-year – with the exception of 2012 and 2015 – throughout the last decade.

In 2010, the HSE was spending €135.9 million on agency staff. That has more than doubled since. Between 2013 and 2014, agency spend rose from €185 million to €268 million. 

In all, just over €2.3 billion was spent on agency staff within the HSE in the 2010s.

Last year, the HSE introduced a recruitment embargo aimed at specific posts. Frustrated healthcare workers who had been told they would start permanent job had these posts put on hold.

At Christmas, TheJournal.ie reported the angry pieces of correspondence sent by healthcare workers to health minister Simon Harris, urging an end to the freeze.

One wrote: “There are at least three agency posts in my team while I wait on a HSE panel for a permanent job. How can this situation make fiscal or ethical sense?”

The issue has been repeatedly highlighted by unions within the sector as failing patients, adding to waiting lists and ultimately costing the HSE more in that they need to use more expensive agency staff to plug the gap caused by these roles not being filled.

Sinn Féin’s O’Reilly said that the hundreds of millions spent on agency staff is “not good value for money in the first instance, and it is not good for patients or other full-time staff”. 

“The HSE is now spending nearly €1 million a day on temporary agency staff,” she said.

The over-reliance on the use of costly agency staff is a direct result of the escalation of the recruitment and retention crisis under this government; unless the recruitment and retention crisis is addressed then this rampant agency spending will continue to cripple the health service.

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Sean Murray

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