According to information published by the Department of Health, the Health and Social Care service in Northern Ireland spent a total of £69 million in deploying agency staff during 2012-2013. By 2017-2018, this figure had risen to £156 million. Around £32 million of this was spent on agency nursing and midwifery.
Agency staff will always have an important role to play in delivering care through covering sudden and unexpected absences. We also know that some members enjoy the flexibility that working via an agency can bring. But this continuing and escalating over-reliance on agency staff is a symptom of inadequate workforce planning and short-term cost-savings measures. It can also raise concerns over continuity of patient care, as well as the perceived unfairness when two nurses are working side-by side, performing the same role on the same shift, yet one nurse working through an agency may be earning three times or more the hourly rate of the colleague employed by the HSC trust.
Better workforce planning would ensure that the vast proportion of this expenditure could be re-directed towards enhancing patient services and supporting fair pay for Northern Ireland nurses.
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