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Almost €50 million was spent by HSE statutory hospitals and community healthcare organisations on agency consultants and NCHDs from June to November 2019 inclusive, according to statistics provided by the Executive.
During these months, expenditure was highest in August (€8,696,000) and lowest in November (€7,573,000).
The total expenditure on agency consultants was €24,882,000, while the spend on agency NCHDs was €24,389,000 within this six-month period.
“The reduction and control of agency and overtime has been, and continues to be, a particular focus for the health service,” a HSE spokesperson told the Medical Independent .
“The effective management of variable pay costs forms a major element of operational cost-containment plans and is subject to continuous review at the performance meetings held under the performance and accountability framework.”
The spokesperson added it was “important to note” that there were a variety of reasons driving agency demand.
“These include, but are not limited to, the replacement of short-term illness; maternity leave; challenges to recruiting and retaining health professionals (in particular doctors, nurses and midwives) whereby the balance between high-cost and high-risk to service quality and safety is struck through agency; and overtime use to provide/maintain necessary services.”
HSE National Director of Acute Operations Mr Liam Woods told the Oireachtas Health Committee in October that the HSE was encouraging conversion from agency to whole-time staff. He said agency expenditure was just over €400 million across the HSE, with about half in hospitals.
In December, also speaking at the Oireachtas Health Committee, HSE CEO Mr Paul Reid said the Executive was “working to ensure levels of agency, overtime, and pay costs, which reached unaffordable levels by the end of 2018, are brought within what is affordable and sustainable during 2019 and into 2020”.
The HSE’s service plan for 2020 seeks to realise “opportunities to reinvest in the workforce through agency conversion, for example, as allowable growth factors within the WTE limits, notwithstanding that all services need to closely monitor agency and overtime spend and the implementation of measures to reduce same”.