Northern Ireland health service in £16m overtime bill for staff shortages
More than £40,000 a day is spent on overtime by Northern Ireland's health trusts to cover staff shortages.
The bill for the last 12 months topped £16m across the five trusts.
It comes on top of a £78m spend by health trusts on agency staff in the same 12-month period.
The figures provide an alarming insight into the staffing crisis in our health service.
Latest figures show that more than a fifth of the population of Northern Ireland is currently on a waiting list for treatment.
A staggering 400,000 people are waiting for either a first outpatient appointment, a diagnostic test, an integrated clinical assessment or an inpatient treatment.
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, who sits on Stormont's health committee, said a proper strategy was needed to address the issue.
"This is a colossal expenditure on overtime by the trusts at a time when our health service is in a tail spin," she said.
Overtime costs were disclosed by the health trusts after Freedom of Information requests.
In the 12 months to April, the total bill was £16,024,301 - equivalent to £43,902 a day.
The costs include:
- £7,238,000 by the Belfast Trust.
- £2,883,089 by the South Eastern Trust.
- £2,410,263 by the Southern Trust.
- £1,864,000 by the Northern Trust.
- And £1,628,949 by the Western Trust.
Patricia McKeown from the health workers' union Unison said that while some overtime will always be needed, spending was out of control.
"When you get overtime spiralling out of control like that it is symptomatic of crisis management caused by a lack of staff across a whole series of areas," she said.
Ms McKeown claimed there was a lack of proper workforce planning.
"This is not in control because the current methods of employing people and filling vacancies are not in control," she added.
And she warned there was too much reliance on casualisation of labour, agency staffing and zero-hours contracts."
She added: "This world of casualisation blows things out of the water.
"It makes for a workforce that you can't guarantee is going to be there when you want it, therefore you end up asking the existing workforce to work overtime."
Figures released last week by the Department of Health show the total number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September 2015 was 230,625.
A further 12,818 were waiting for a clinical assessment, 90,643 for a diagnostic service and 62,697 for inpatient admission.
Last month it emerged that almost £200m had been spent employing locum medical staff in the last five years.
It includes £78,456,096 in the 2014/15 financial year. Mrs Dobson urged Health Minister Simon Hamilton to produce a strategy to address workforce planning.