Agency nurses drafted in at £87 per hour to plug gaps in crisis-hit A&Es
Agency nurses employed in A&E departments have cost up to £87 an hour.
The bill was run up by the Southern Trust to cover shortages at Craigavon Area Hospital, although the trust pointed out it was a public holiday rate.
The next highest spending was £64 an hour and related to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Nurses at Antrim Area Hospital cost up to £61 per hour, while at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry the highest hourly rate was £50.
The figures were released by Health Minister Edwin Poots after an Assembly question from Sinn Fein MLA Daithi McKay.
The high costs are likely to relate to specialist nurses from non-contracted agencies.
By contrast, ordinary nurses receive just a fraction of that.
Graduates with a degree in adult nursing begin their career as a Band 5 on the NHS pay scale which, in 2013/14, started at £21,388 – an hourly rate of £11.
In a separate question, Mr McKay asked the minister whether his department had achieved value for money for agency nurses employed in emergency departments in the last 12 months.
Mr Poots replied: "I fully recognise that the use of temporary staff covering staff absence and temporary vacancies is a vital resource to ensure the delivery of safe and effective care and to ensure the continuity of care.
"I recognise that agency spend will never be zero, however I also recognise that agency spend must be scrutinised and I expect trusts to examine agency spend carefully and explore all measures to address the need to use agencies."
Mr Poots said the department was reviewing the nursing and midwifery workforce and will produce a plan to ensure these professionals are best placed to support the delivery of safe and effective care over the next five years.
"As part of this review the use of agency staff will be examined to ensure appropriate use within the planning process and in the ongoing delivery of safe and effective care," he added.
In a further question, Mr McKay asked the minister to outline the hourly rate paid to each recruitment agency for nurses.
Up to February this year, one agency, Scottish Nurses Guild, was paid between £44.45 and £63.45 an hour for nurses.
Under the new framework agreement, which took effect from February 3, the rates were reduced.
Mr Poots explained that a range of charges was dependent on when a shift was worked – for example day, night or weekend.