£600k cost of relocating Northern Ireland doctors to plug gaps in system
Cash-strapped health bosses have spent more than £600,000 on relocating doctors.
The Western Trust had the highest spend, shelling out almost half of the total relocation fees for doctors in Northern Ireland between 2014 and 2018, figures show.
Health officials cover the cost of a variety of expenses incurred by doctors when they relocate to help fill vacant posts.
Figures reveal that while the Western Trust spent £298,617 over the five years, the South Eastern Trust spent £28,555.
The Northern Trust paid £41,214, the Southern Trust spent just over £72,000, while the Belfast Trust paid £195,869.
The figures were released by the Department of Health's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly in response to questions by SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan.
It was explained that there is a maximum that can be claimed by staff when they relocate.
They can only claim £1,000 if the employment contract is up to 12 months or if it is longer than 12 months and they do not sell their former residence as a result of taking up the new job. They can claim up to £8,000 if the employment contract is longer than 12 months and they sell their former home.
Mr McCrossan hit out at the spend, particularly by the Western Trust, and called for NHS officials to press ahead with a proposed medical school in Londonderry.
It has been claimed that it will be easier to fill vacant posts in the Western Trust if doctors are training in the region.
However, the medical school is one of a series of Department of Health policies, strategies and capital developments being held up by the political impasse.
Mr McCrossan said: "The fact the Department of Health has spent so much money relocating doctors is a symptom that something major is wrong with the training and recruitment of doctors across the North.
"Our doctors, nurses and healthcare staff are working under immense and intolerable pressures.
"They are delivering, in many instances, against the odds.
"It comes as no surprise the Western Trust spends most, given that Altnagelvin and Enniskillen are facing major shortages in staffing, both doctors and nurses.
"This is inevitably adding more pressure to the existing dedicated, hard-working and superhero staff we have.
"It's clear we have a massive issue in the west and north west, but there is a clear solution - a new postgraduate medical school in Derry. The effort put into this project must be redoubled and I believe the Department of Health should heavily contribute to make that happen."
The Western Trust did not respond to the comments made by Mr McCrossan, while the Department of Health said it was unable to comment.