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This was of “major concern”, according to a meeting of the Executive Council of the Saolta University HealthCare Group in January. The minutes reported that the Group had been “making little impact” on reducing agency hours “due to the difficulties in recruiting HSE staff”.
To November 2015, year-to-date agency costs across the HSE were €304.1 million, which was down by approximately €7 million on the corresponding figure for 2014.
Hospitals have been under pressure to curtail agency costs in the context of budget overruns. A meeting of Saolta’s board, in October, heard that the Group had overspent by €38.1 million at the end of September, with a forecast of €47 million for year-end.
According to statistics released to MI by Saolta, medical staff accounted for the highest number of agency hours in 2015 (186,061), followed by healthcare assistants (111,877) and nurses (50,889).
The highest number of medical agency hours were incurred at Portiuncula University Hospital (66,247), followed by Limerick University Hospital (65,133), Sligo University Hospital (29,528), Galway University Hospitals (14,053) and Roscommon University Hospital (11,101). Mayo University Hospital recorded zero medical agency hours, although it accumulated the most nursing agency hours in the Group (17,928).
According to Saolta, measures being undertaken to reduce agency costs include the use of “more stringent criteria” for approval of agency staff, a requirement that service managers “optimise available resources” before approving agency engagement, and “targeted reductions through the replacement of agency with HSE contracts”.