€22m spent on mental health agency staff, overtime

MORE than €22 million was spent on agency staff and overtime within the mental health nursing services during 2010, documents obtained by the Irish Examiner have revealed.

A draft proposal prepared by mental health bosses in order to reduce overtime and agency use says that in 2010, €15.2m was paid out on overtime, while €7m was paid for agency nurses.

The document states the “routine use” of agency staff and overtime to fulfil rosters “must be eliminated”.

It says that agency work is a “perverse incentive” for graduates, and introducinga cost-competitive contract will remove this.

It also outlines the danger of relying on agency staff.

“Use of unfamiliar staff raises the risk profile and places an additional burden on regular staff members who must continuously induct their new transitory colleagues,” the draft document reads.

“Recently qualified staff should be exposed to consistent and quality-work practices in the formative years of their professional lives. Agency work rarely affords this opportunity and can instil loose professional practice, ultimately undermining service quality. They can meet an immediate service need, a reduction in routine use of overtime and agency arrangements is essential to improve service quality.”

In relation to overtime, the document says that the premium paid for overtime is compounded by the fact that a senior staff member is paid an overtime rate on their substantial grade rather than at staff nurse rates.

It says recruiting graduates represents a very good value for money profile when compared to more senior colleagues on overtime.

“To replace overtime spending 200 graduates could be employed for €8.8m. In light of the continuing capacity loss through retirement it should be noted the need greatly exceeds 200, however.”

Negative consequences of the routine use of overtime are outlined as:

* Degrading the staff’s work-life experience.

* Reducing the staff member’s capacity to rest and restore.

* Family unfriendly and stress-generating.

* More expensive and poorer quality.

* Becoming embedded in the staffs’ earning expectations.

* Being divisive as not all staff can equally avail of it.

In the past two years mental health services have seen sustained losses with 1,049 or 21% of nursing staff workforce lost.

“This is not a sustainable position,” Martin Rogan, assistant national director of mental health, who wrote the document, said.

“The loss is compounded by the financial loss of €46m as funding from retirees salaries is lost to the budget once they leave.”

The aging workforce within the mental health services is called a “demographic time-bomb”.

“This can be anticipated and must be addressed as a matter of urgency to preserve vital service capacity and safety.”

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