Cost Of NI Locum Doctors Almost Trebles To £83m

The spiralling cost of paying for locum doctors in Northern Ireland has put the health system under serious financial pressure, according to a report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office.

Total expenditure has almost trebled to £83 million over the last seven years.

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly's report also revealed the trust's heavy reliance on locums provided via agencies, which is more expensive than using HSC professionals.

By 2017-18, both the Northern Trust and Western Trust spent more than 22% of their total medical pay bill on locums.

Mr Donnelly said the rising cost is becoming unsustainable as it puts local health budgets under huge strain. He added: "Efforts taken to reduce this dependency have had very limited success. To help ensure that patients' needs are best met and provide better value for money, it is now imperative that the Department and Trusts collectively progress the transformation agenda and formulate strategies for delivering a suitably resourced and sustainable medical workforce."

SDLP Health Spokesperson Mark H Durkan has deemed the £83 million spend an appalling frittering away of vital capital in the absence of long-term solutions.

He said the staggering amount of money is being wasted on a temporary fix to a deepening crisis: "Clearly this band-aid approach to resource challenges is not only ineffective but also proving extremely expensive. 
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"This issue is not a failure of political inactivity but rather the glaring failures of workforce planning under previous Executives. Previous health ministers were more than aware of this crippling recruitment issue but failed to implement sustainable, workable solutions. The ongoing stalemate has denied any opportunity for intervention, allowing costs to spiral and for the situation to worsen."

The MLA for Foyle added: "The 1,800 unfilled medical positions as of September last year are testament to the 'brain drain' in the North- losing our qualified medical specialists to more lucrative opportunities across the water. It is imperative the department employs a 'train and retain' strategy- we need to implement measures here, including levelling the pay differential between Northern Ireland and the UK. Perhaps the introduction of a time-limited contract for students trained here, to pledge time and skills within our hospitals post-graduation, could go a long way in relieving staffing pressures.

"If the issue of resourcing can be tackled, it would solve a myriad of problems plaguing the health service, including the some 280,000 patients waiting for consultant led appointments. This is not just a question of money, this is the loss of opportunities, job creation and the regeneration of our health system. In the absence of ministers, the Department and Trusts must work collectively to implement urgent and much needed reform. Our health service should never be treated as the collateral damage of political gridlock."


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