Expensive agency locums fill more posts in WHSCT

LOCUM doctors were used to fill more junior doctor posts in the Western Trust than in any other health authority this August - the majority, expensive agency locums who in some parts of Northern Ireland cost twice as much as staff doctors.

Health Minister Edwin Poots revealed there were 17 unfilled junior doctor posts in August and 12.8 of these were filled by locums.

The Minister advised that 5.8 of these were paid the normal Trust rate but that seven - the highest number of any health authority - were paid at local agency rates.

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Mr Poots provided the information in response to an Assembly Question from Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) MLA Jim Allister.

A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) revealed nine agencies across NI recruit doctors from within the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care sector and that many of the staff supplied by these agencies are already working for Trust hospitals.

“The payment rates although in line with agreed contract rates, tend to be significantly higher than the salaries paid to hospital staff. For example, rates for some of the larger Agencies range between £31 to £72 per hour compared against substantive post rates of between £26 to £31 per hour,” the NIAO report stated.

In July Dr Tom Black of the British Medical Association (BMA) urged the Health Minister to “incentivise” medical posts in the North West when the Sentinel revealed how tough new immigration laws - barring many overseas doctors from working here - helped hike the bill for locum doctors in the Western Trust to £9m last year.

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The cost of expensive locum cover in the health authority now accounts for almost 17 per cent of medical staffing expenditure - double the Northern Ireland average and the highest locum bill in the province.

A huge £25m has been spent on locums in the Western Trust since 2007/8 and the NIAO suggested the increase could be partly blamed on a tightening of UK border control which has made it harder for medical graduates from outside the EU to work in the country.