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HSE spending €16m a month on agency fees

The HSE is spending almost €16m a month on agency fees.

The figures include a rise of 33pc in the cost of agency doctors alone in the past year.

The monthly spend on hiring agency medical staff has risen by just under €2m a month in the past year.

While the cost of agency doctors is up 33pc, the spend on home care attendants is up by 17pc.

Agency nurses are the only group where savings have been made and the cost of these services is down 2pc on last year.



shortage

The sharp rise in costs is blamed on the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs).

Agency fees for this group are running at €5.1m a month compared to €3.8m a month this time last year, according to the latest performance report from the health executive.

Agency care assistants and porters are costing €4.5m, which is up from €3.8m a month last year. Nursing costs during the same period have dropped from just under €6.4m to just under €6.3m.

The overall agency bill now averages €15.9m a month compared to €14.1m a month this time last year.

The performance report says that while it has negotiated cuts in the unit price of agency fees, the number of hours "needs to be addressed to realise the benefits of the cost savings".

A new national contract for agency staff has cut hourly nursing fees by 24pc, those for NCHDs by 21.4pc and home care attendant fees by 18.7pc between March and June of this year.

While the HSE expects these cuts to make a difference in the long term, it says "savings may not be fully evident in financial data until the months progress".

In the meantime, the shortage of NCHDs means a quarter of these positions in emergency departments around the country remain empty.

According to Dr Fergal Hickey, president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, a survey by his association has shown that by July 15 last there was a vacancy rate of 28pc in these posts.

"Almost everybody has some level of deficiency, be it Dublin or outside Dublin, big hospitals or small hospitals," he said.

"There are relatively few departments that are fully staffed."

Dr Hickey has described the shortages as "really bad news".

"It means that 28pc of the supervisory grade doctors are not around, which is going to cause major problems."

Despite these shortages, the HSE performance report states that pressure on services is continuing.

Overall hospital activity is up significantly, while emergency admissions continue to exceed expected levels.

The average time for patients who required admission was just over nine hours, with less than half admitted within the six-hour target.

csheehy@herald.ie


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