More than £115,000 was spent on private agency nursing staff to cover 118 shifts over a three-day period, new figures reveal.
Data released to the DUP through Assembly questions shows health trusts paid up to £871 per shift to the Scottish Nursing Guild for agency staff.
DUP MLA and Health Committee member Deborah Erskine said the revelations showed health trusts are “failing to manage their workforce”.
These figures show that health trusts are failing to manage their workforceDeborah Erskine, DUP
Health Minister Robin Swann said agency staff were needed “to ensure that safe and effective services are maintained at all times”.
The figures, first reported by Belfast Live, related to a three-day period from October 9 to 11 this year.
It showed that the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust (BHSCT) spent £5,530 on 10 shifts on October 9, £6,524 on 13 shifts on October 10, and another £4,958 on 10 shifts on October 11.
That works out as £553, £502 and £496 per shift respectively.
The western trust spent £11,840 on 16 shifts, £10,449 on 12 shifts and £8,659 on 14 shifts on the same dates, working out at £740, £871 and £619 per shift for each day.
The southern trust clocked up spending of £12,717 for 22 shifts, £16,014 for 25 shifts and £489 for 20 shifts on the same weekend.
That amounted to £578, £641 and £489 per shift respectively.
The northern trust paid out £6,738 for nine shifts, £8,448 for 12, and £6,335 for another 12 on the same three dates in October.
That amounted to £748, £704 and £528 per shift.
Ms Erskine has hit out at the “inflated” and varying costs of shift cover.
She said: “These figures show that health trusts are failing to manage their workforce. Setting aside the hugely inflated costs for shift cover, how does a shift in one trust cost £200 more than in another.
“I have spoken to scores of nurses who are hugely experienced, but they work for agencies rather than full time in the trust as it suits their work life balance.
“Whilst agency work is better paid, there is no pension or holiday pay.
“We must also remember that the agency will take an enormous cut for each shift from those amounts. It would be wrong to think that a nurse is getting £840 for a shift.
“I have asked the minister to bring forward proposals which would end the hugely inefficient use of agencies and make the job better suited to the needs of the workforce.
“This is not the fault of our hard-working nurses, this is the fault of management.”
In his response to Ms Erskine, Mr Swann said agency staff are necessary to maintain the operation of the health service.
He wrote: “Trust expenditure on agency staff has been incurred to ensure that safe and effective services are sustained and contributes importantly to maintaining service provision to user and clients.
“HSC Trusts employ locum staff for several reasons, for example, cover for sickness and maternity/paternity leave, cover for existing vacancies and when demand increases over the winter months.
“The primary aim of this is to ensure that safe and effective services are maintained at all times for patients and clients.”