Two Cork hospitals spend €8m on agency workers to plug gaps in staffing

Two Cork hospitals spend €8m on agency workers to plug gaps in staffing
Cork University Hospital

TWO Cork hospitals spent more than €8m on agency workers last year, further fuelling concerns about the HSE’s inability to recruit and retain doctors and nurses.

Cork University Hospital (CUH) spent almost €6.7m while the Mercy University Hospital spent just over €1.5m. Almost 30 agency nurses were employed every week at CUH to help plug huge gaps in staffing.

There were 55 nursing vacancies at the hospital in December and almost 20 vacant consultant posts, with the vast majority of these filled by locum consultants on HSE contracts. Meanwhile, the Mercy had five vacant nursing posts in December, all filled by agency staff.

Consultant in emergency medicine at CUH, Dr Conor Deasy, said recruitment can be a slow bureaucratic process.

“Attracting consultants to come back to Ireland from Australia, Canada and US where conditions and resources are better is challenging,” he said.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the problem has spiralled out of control in recent years.

“Some amount of agency staffing is normal, but The Echo’s figures demonstrate how the problem has ballooned out of proportion,” an INMO spokesman said.

“Uncompetitive pay has meant that many nurses and midwives look to other countries for work, meaning that agency staff are needed to plug the gaps. When safe staffing levels are implemented, Irish research shows that the workforce stabilises, agency spending can be cut by over 95%, and patient outcomes improve hugely.”

Dr Peadar Gilligan, president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), described the figures as concerning.

“It indicates that there are challenges in filling posts at a senior level in the healthcare service in Ireland.”

Dr Gilligan said the 30% pay cut imposed on consultants in October 2012 by the Department of Health has made taking up a consultancy post an unattractive proposition.

“Currently, Irish doctors are providing consultant level service around the world in the likes of Australia, Canada, the UK and America, and we’re finding it very difficult to attract them back to Ireland.

“While CUH certainly has its challenges, hospitals across Ireland are struggling to recruit,” he added.

“As a result, we have a huge dependency on locum agencies to provide doctors on a temporary basis to provide a service to those patients.”

Dr Gilligan warned that unless pay is restored and working conditions are improved, hospitals such as CUH and the Mercy will continue to spend millions trying to alleviate pressures amid a recruitment and retention crisis.

A statement from MUH said the agency staff are primarily used to fill short-term vacancies whilst awaiting completion of a recruitment process, or unplanned leave in critical areas such as the emergency department.

The €1.5m spend equals around 2% of the total pay spend, according to MUH.

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