According to figures provided by the HSE, one agency, Nurse On Call, nearly doubled its revenues from the HSE last year from €22.7m to €43.1m.
Nurse on Call is the sole supplier of agency nurses to all HSE hospitals and to HSE-funded hospitals — including HSE home care — for the HSE Regions of Dublin North East, Dublin Mid-Leinster, HSE South and HSE Midlands.
Another firm, publicly quoted CPL, got €43.8m in fees from the HSE last year — a 48% increase on the €29.2m received in 2011.
Overall, the HSE’s agency spend across clinical/non-clinical and other patient services fell by 7% last year from €176.5m to €164.7m. The HSE state, while it achieved a 30% cut in costs for agency doctors, 17% more was spent on agency nurses. Figures show:
* Payouts to the top five firms increased last year to €123m — a 17% increase on the €105m received by the five firms in 2011;
* Global Medics last year received €17.2m in 2012 — down marginally on the €17.7m received in 2011;
* Payments to Locum Express dropped by 46.5% from €26.8m to €14.3m;
* Payments to TTM Healthcare fell 45% from €8.6m to €4.7m.
Andy Pike, the assistant general secretary with the trade union Impact, described the figures received by the top paid firms as “large”.
He said: “It costs the HSE more to employ agency staff as agency workers are entitled to the same pay as permanent staff and along with that the HSE must pay a commission to the agency firm.”
Mr Pike said that there was a lack of joined up thinking in Government over the employment of agency workers.
“While the Department of Public Expenditure is looking to reduce significantly the number of agency workers, the HSE is looking to increase the number of surgical procedures across hospital networks. How can that be done where there is a staffing embargo in place- the only way to the bridge the gap is the employment of agency workers.”
Mr Pike said agency workers should only be used as emergency cover “but they are used on a regular basis and the €43m paid to a firm means that there is €43m less in the HSE’s kitty for patient care”.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Workers Act) 2012 was implemented in May 2012 and impacted on the overall cost of agency services. She said that the “Haddington Road Agreement provides that the standard working week for nurses and midwives will be 39 hours per week with effect from Jul 1. This will go some way in reducing reliance on agency staff.”