The amount of money spent on agency workers in the Western Trust has risen by a whopping 80 per cent over the past five years, according to the new Health Minister Michelle O’Neill.
Western Trust spend on temporary nurses and other agency staff almost doubled between 2011/12 and 2015/16, the Minister has revealed.
The expenditure rose every single year since the turn of the decade.
For example, agency staff cost the Trust £10.2m in 2011/12; £10.7m in 2012/13; £12.3m in 2013/14; £15.7m in 2014/15; and £18.4m last year.
It’s an example of another pressure point for the Trust financially, alongside its dependence on even more expensive temporary locum doctors.
The Minister did not give any explanation for the increase, however, new legislation introduced by the Home Secretary Theresa May in April, which means immigrants from outside the European Union now have to earn at least £35,000 in order to settle in Northern Ireland, is unlikely to help ease the pressure in the years ahead.
Nurses are currently exempt from exclusion as they are on the UK’s ‘Shortage Occupation List’ for 2016 but this can be changed with the stroke of a pen and Government endorsement in future.
Given the recent Brexit vote, the legislation may also have to be changed to prohibit immigrants from inside the EU settling here if they don’t earn more than £35,000 per year, as well.
Ms O’Neill’s predecessor Simon Hamilton last year expressed concern that the new rules could make life difficult for our Asian and African care-givers.
“I am aware that these proposed rules could potentially cause difficulty for both HSC and Independent Sector employers in certain professions however immigration is an excepted matter and as such is outwith the control of my Department. My Department will continue to lead regional workforce planning to help ensure a supply of suitable, sufficiently qualified staff to meet the needs of the Health Service,” he said.