Southern Trust spends £2.2m on agency cleaners

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The Southern Trust has racked up the highest bill in Northern Ireland for cleaning, cooking and security services carried out by agency workers.

A total of £2.2m was paid by the trust, which operates South Tyrone and Craigavon Area hospitals, to outside agencies for support workers, including orderlies, porters and warehouse staff.

The next highest bill, £1.9m, was paid by the Northern Trust, while the South Eastern Trust had the lowest bill, £113,792.

The Southern Health Trust’s entire bill for agency staff hit £7.8million in the past year, up from £6.7million in the previous year.

The figures were released by the Department of Health at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

There were similar increases reported by other trusts in Northern Ireland, with the Belfast Trust posting the highest bill at £27million, followed by the Northern Trust at £15.7million. The Southern Trust reported the lowest bill in Northern Ireland.

The rise in spending on expensive temporary staff comes despite trusts being under pressure to cut costs.

Across Northern Ireland, spending on agency staff topped £70m last year, having soared by 60% over the last four years.

In some cases nurses costing as much as £87 an hour were brought in to cover chronic staff shortages.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a clampdown on spiralling agency staff bills in June, after revealing it cost the NHS as a whole £3.3bn last year.

The figure - up from £1.8bn three years earlier - was more than the cost of that year’s 22 million A&E admissions combined, and included more than £600m spent on management consultants, as well as clinical staff used to fills gaps on understaffed wards.

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said: “The Trust has been working on the modernisation and restructuring of services, which has impacted on domestic, catering and portering teams. Whilst this process was ongoing, a greater use of agency staff was required to allow more flexibility within the workforce and to protect the positions of permanent staff. Now that all permanent staff have been accommodated in suitable alternative posts, the Trust has commenced a process to fill the posts.”