Private agencies are charging health trusts in Northern Ireland up to £736 for a single nurse’s shift, it has been claimed.
And a shift in one trust area can cost £200 more than in another, the Assembly was told.
Health Minister Robin Swann was urged to act swiftly to reduce the dependency on private employment agencies.
The demand came after it was revealed the country’s five trusts spent almost £116,000 to cover 188 shifts over a weekend period in October.
Insisting the trusts have become too dependent on agencies, DUP MLA Deborah Erskine said she had spoken to scores of highly-experienced nurses who work for agencies “as it suits their work-life balance”.
“We need to ask ourselves why nurses are choosing to leave the health service to work as agency staff. We need to keep the nurses whom we have and build on the workforce.
“Although agency work is better paid, there is no pension or holiday pay. Agencies take an enormous cut for each shift. It would be wrong to think that a nurse is getting up to £736-a- shift. How does a shift in one trust cost £200 more than a shift in another.”
More than £115,800 was spent on nurses covering 188 shifts from Saturday, October 9, to Monday, October 11, across five health trusts.
“There is a lot of stress and poor morale among nursing staff. They are the most valuable resource in keeping our health service going,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA who replaced former first minister Arlene Foster in her Assembly seat, added.
“Trusts have become too dependent on agencies. Why are we not giving incentives to the health workforce at present?” she asked the Assembly.
And addressing Mr Swann she said: “We need to put in place a plan to recruit and retain more nurses.”