A nurse who works at South West Acute Hospital has hit out at the unfair targeting of the Fermanagh area in relation to locum and agency costs, claiming that it is being used as a “stick to beat us with” and as a mechanism “to cut services”.

The nurse goes on to say that locum and agency costs are “as big an issue in other Trust areas but never get the same scrutiny. It is a red herring”.

The Impartial Reporter carried out an investigation into locum and agency pay and can reveal that across the five Trust areas, it differs by less than 1.5 per cent between Trusts.

Locum and agency costs have long been identified as a major problem in the Western Trust area. The Pathfinder Initiation Document, which was written in October 2018 and which “defines” the Pathfinder Project into reshaping health provision in Fermanagh and West Tyrone stated that high locum costs were a threat to services.

The document says that problems arise when a “service becomes reliant on locum cover in the long term”. It continues to say, such an outcome “poses potential problems in terms of sustainability of the service…The uncertainty around these services is not in the interest of patients or staff and action is therefore required to develop and introduce new models of care that will remove the Trust’s dependence on the availability of locums.”

The nurse who spoke to the Impartial Reporter believes that the biggest issue is one of recruitment.

“Number one, we don’t recruit properly. There are too many short-term contracts. Then the argument is made that we can’t pay locums and agency staff. When you don’t pay locums, the service becomes unsafe and when it becomes unsafe it has to be stopped and moved, and when it is moved elsewhere it will never come back,” the nurse explained.

“And of course, when people see what locum staff are paid, they say that it shouldn’t happen. But the problem then is the knock-on effect that it has on services. In no other area, other than Fermanagh, is there same spotlight shone on the cost of locum and agency staff.”