UHK spent €2.5m on agency staff in just five months

Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris slams 'disgraceful' situation

Tadhg Evans

University Hospital Kerry spent more than €2.5m on agency staff in the first five months of 2019 - one of the highest spends within the South/South West Hospital Group.

The HSE released the information to Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly, after she called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide a break-down of hospitals' spending on agency staff in 2019 so far.

€135m was spent nationally in the first five months of the year - around €900,000 a day - and Deputy O'Reilly's party colleague Martin Ferris has lashed out at the HSE and the government over what he called "a disgraceful situation".

"It exposes the whole scenario around agency workers and the amount of money being spent on agency workers," he told The Kerryman.

“If we had our own staff provided and supported, it would be far less [cost] to the taxpayer.

"I think it's a disgraceful situation. You have young nurses and young staff members having to leave the country to find employment...The ban on recruitment is being filled by agency staff. That's the reality here."

HSE Corporate Finance General Manager Sarah Anderson said spending on agency staff "should be considered in the overall context".

This includes "increasing demand for services; the impact of earlier constraints on recruitment in the public service; ongoing challenges in relation to the recruitment and retention of clinical staff; actions necessary to support compliance with the European Working Time Directive and efforts to reduce expenditure on agency staff".

"Agency pay cost is under constant review," she said. "Agency staff are used where there is a difficulty in recruiting and employing hospital staff and where there is a short-term critical service need.

"Agency is also used for flexibility to allow for variation in activity and as required to meet patient demand needs."

Deputy Ferris was unimpressed by this response, however.

"We have the trained staff available, if the ban on recruitment was lifted," he said.

"Our hospital service, going back decades, has been a very efficient service. But the ban on recruitment is contributing to a lack of services, as well as contributing to a situation in University Hospital Kerry where you have anything up to 100 or 100-plus patients on trolleys in a week because there is no staff available to deal with a situation as it presents itself."