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Southern Trust hoping reduce expenditure by offering agency and locum workforce full-time contracts

Craigavon Area Hospital

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust is hoping to fill its vacant posts and look at offering some of its locum and agency workforce permanent contracts in an effort to reduce its expenditure on agency staffing, it has been confirmed.

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced measures to reduce expenditure on agency staff within health and social care to eliminate the use of off-contract agencies.

This has resulted in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust being tasked with reducing its spend on agency staff by £2.507 million this financial year.

Speaking at the Trust’s monthly board meeting on Thursday, October 27, the organisation’s director of finance, procurement and estates acknowledged meeting this target “will be difficult” and said costs in this area will be monitored closely each month.

The Trust board’s Chair, Eileen Mullan, noted the Trust would be able to make more savings if “we were able to provide permanent contracts and put people on a more certain footing”.

Ms Mullan then asked if that is something the Trust is looking to do or if because of the challenges of “non-recurrent funding” it would not be possible to do so.

Explaining the situation, Ms Teggart said the Trust’s first priority will be to fill its vacant posts before it takes the decision to go “at risk” and offer permanent contracts to agency staff.

“First, we will look at filling vacant posts and that will be our priority but we will need to make a decision about those posts that have been funded for a number of years,” said Ms Teggart.

“We will need to make a decision to go at risk for some of those.

“The Trust will not be able to do it for the entirety of our flexible workforce but we will need to make some decisions in terms of the savings we can achieve by recruiting into permanent posts.

“We know the funding has been provided by the department non-recurrently in our budget for a number of years and I think we need to start to look to assume that for some of those posts, funding will have to come our way.

“That will form part of financial sustainability review.

“We need to look at those posts and make the decision, if we can put a case to the department that we can make savings by taking these steps, the hope would be they can give us the assurance they can make funding recurrent.”

By the end of September, the Trust’s payroll expenditure totalled £303 million which is £7.3 million over budget for this time of year. The main areas of overspend continue to be medical and nursing staff which have expenditure in excess of budget of £3.7 million and £5.7 million respectively.

Approximately 16 per cent (£49.1 million) of total payroll is spent on agency, bank, locum, overtime and additional duty hours. In September, the Trust employed a total of 1,586 whole time equivalent staff on these flexible arrangements.

Overall, the Trust’s staffing compliment has increased by 380 whole time equivalent staff when compared to September 2021. The primary reason for this is understood to be the response to Covid-19.

As of the end of September this year, there are 262 whole time equivalent’s employed specifically under Covid response. This figure excludes bank and agency provision under Covid for which the whole time equivalent can vary month to month.

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