HSE spends €26m on locums to fill shortages

THE HSE spent a massive €26 million on locum doctors to fill chronic staff shortages across public hospitals in the first half of this year.

Official figures show the expenditure was between January and the end of June — a period which has contributed to what senior health service officials have admitted is the worst financial overspend the HSE has ever faced.

If the cost was spent elsewhere, it would be the equivalent of appointing 300 consultants, a move which would increase the specialist doctor workforce by 12%.

Figures obtained by trade newspaper the Medical Independent confirm that during the six-month period, the HSE spent just under €26m on locum doctors.

The highest regional costs were in the HSE West, where €7.46m was spent, and the HSE South, where just over €7.02m was paid out.

Among the hospitals with the highest locum expenditure during the period were Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda and Kerry General Hospital.

These two facilities spent €2.15m and €2.14m respectively.

Significant sums were also spent to keep services in place during the first half of this year in Letterkenny General (€1.93m), Cavan and Monaghan General (€1.97m combined) and Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan (€1.71m).

However, the situation was substantially different at the Regional Maternity Hospital in Limerick.

There, just €2,193 was spent on locum doctors over the time period in question — the lowest facility-specific figure in the country.

The situation comes at a time when the HSE is attempting to impose drastic cutbacks to prevent being more than €200m over-budget by the end of this year — largely due to huge agency worker and overtime costs caused by recruitment ban-linked staff shortages.

The details have also emerged at a time when just 80 of the 270 Indian and Pakistani junior doctors brought to Ireland as part of an expensive recruitment plan are able to work here two months after arriving.

When the Irish Examiner revealed the situation last week, the figure was just 15. The situation is due to red-tape in the system relating to accreditation issues between the HSE and the Medical Council of Ireland.

The HSE is also in negotiations with consultants over the possibility of them working extra shifts without additional pay — a situation which is part of the discussions over the consultants “rest days” dispute. Due to previous staff shortages, a large number of consultants were not able to take many holiday days in previous years, but it was agreed they could take up to a year of such rest days on full pay prior to retirement.

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