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€10.5m spent on agency staff at Galway hospitals

Dara Bradley

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Expenditure on agency staff at Galway’s public hospitals has spiralled five-fold in just five years.

Hiring agency staff is an expensive mechanism used by hospitals to circumvent the Government embargo on recruitment.

Last week, members of the Regional Health Forum West were shocked to learn that last year Galway’s health service forked out almost €10.5 million on agency staff.

That was up from €4.2 million in 2013, and it was five times the amount that was spent on agency staff in 2010 (€2.1 million).

Galway City Councillor, Catherine Connolly (Ind), who obtained the information, said spending that amount of money on agency staff was “shocking”.

The total spent on agency staff across the entire west and north/west was just under €47 million.

“What’s worse is we have to pay VAT because it is a service they are providing,” said Cllr Connolly.

She said that it was not the fault of hospital management, because they have been forced to recruit expensive agency staff as the Government continues with its ban on recruitment to the public sector.

Cllr Connolly said it was a disgrace that so much money was paid to agency staff, when public hospitals are starved of funding, and they are precluded from recruiting more full-time, permanent, front-line staff.

Tony Canavan, chief operating officer of SAOLTA University Health Care Group, explained that the vast majority of the agency expenditure in Galway was paid to medical staff, which is consultants and junior doctors.

Of the €10.5 million agency expenditure in 2014 in Galway, some €9 million was for doctors, and just €1.5 million was for nursing staff.

He explained that the market for medical agency staff is “very, very competitive” and the hospitals were faced with the choice of “do I pay the market rate or do I have a philosophical debate about the market”.  He said the agency staff was mostly hired for unfilled junior doctor and unfilled consultant posts.

Mr Canavan signalled that from 2015 onwards there is a change in policy – the HSE has changed tack and said that it would move towards recruitment of staff rather than hiring outside agency staff.

Mr Canavan said: “A significant reduction in agency costs in 2015 is a priority measure included in the west region’s cost containment plans to achieve a budget breakeven year-end turnout. The 2015 staff agency budget for medical and nursing for the west region is €24 million, which is a 50% reduction on the 2014 out-turn of €47 million.

“During 2015 this budget reduction in the main will be addressed by the planned employment of medical and nursing staff and the conversion of agency staff to HSE employees during 2015.”

Cllr Connolly welcomed the change in direction and the commitment to turn agency staff into HSE staff starting from this year.

Connacht Tribune

Compliant Galwegians are keeping their distance

Francis Farragher

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Checkpoint...Garda warning for those who stray too far from home.

BOY racers, cyclists, gym users and young people attending house parties are among those in Galway who have been issued with Fixed Payment Notices (FPNs) for breaching the Covid-19 travel regulations over the past week.

However, Gardaí in Galway have reported ‘a very high-level of compliance’ from the general public as regards the travel restrictions that are a central part of the Level-5 ‘Stay Home – Stay Safe’ Covid campaign.

Over the weekend, Gardaí issued FPNs to so-called ‘boy racers’ in two separate cases on the Tuam Road outside Galway city and in the Craughwell area.

FPNs – involving a €100 on-the-spot fine – were also issued last week to a number of young people attending house parties in the Galway city area, after Gardaí had been called to the scene.

Two cyclists stopped in the Cornamona area of North Connemara last week, who were 19 kilometres from their homes – and outside their own county boundary – also faced Garda censure.

The cyclists weren’t from the same household; they weren’t wearing masks; and also, were in breach of social distancing regulations.

Gardaí also came across a case of a gym in South Galway being used by a number of people last week – also a breach of the Covid-19, Level-5 restrictions.

While Gardaí also received a number of calls about possible ‘pub-opening’ violations, on investigation, they found no sign of activity on the premises they checked out.

Galway Chief Garda Superintendent, Tom Curley, told the Connacht Tribune that overall, there was ‘a very high level of compliance’ as regards the travel restrictions which was ‘very encouraging’.

See full story – and comprehensive Covid-19 coverage – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Lessons learned on home-schooling

Denise McNamara

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Cathal Moore, principal of the Presentation Athenry.

Home-schooling is working better this time round with many teachers conducting live classes and more students actively engaging than when schools closed suddenly last March.

But virtual education is a poor substitute for the experience of the classroom with students sorely missing social interaction, according to teachers, while parents are still struggling to balance working from home with ensuring their children keep up with the school work.

The sooner that schools can reopen safely the better for everyone – although most agree that it’s looking more likely to be after mid-term than at the beginning of February.

“Everybody is in a better place this time round – schools, teachers, parents and students. Everybody expected to be back at school. It’s no secret last time we got two hours’ notice but this time round we’re better prepared,” remarks the principal of the Presentation Athenry, Cathal Moore.

The mixed secondary school is doing a mix of live and recorded classes as not every student has good broadband.

After the first week, there was feedback from students that they felt there was too much homework in addition to the virtual classes while teachers reported that they would prefer more live communication from their charges.

“It is more tiring – fatigue is definitely a factor when on a screen all day and if this goes on for a prolonged amount of time it will creep in for a growing number of students.”

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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Connacht Tribune

Hard-pressed hospitals down 450 staff over Covid

Dara Bradley

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More than 450 staff – including nurses at UHG and Portiuncula – are now out of work due to Covid, as staff shortages threaten the public hospitals’ ability to cope with the crisis.

The upsurge has seen UHG deal with a record number of Covid-19 patients, and the hospital had to escalate its surge capacity plan and add extra beds in ICU.

The latest CSO figures reveal that the first week of the New Year was Galway’s deadliest yet on the pandemic front, with five lives lost over those opening seven days of 2021.

That brought the total number of virus fatalities in Galway to 25, and it’s understood there have been further deaths locally since then, which will be confirmed later.

From March to the end of November there were 20 deaths notified in Galway, and no further deaths were recorded in all of December.

News of Galway’s deadliest week comes as local leaders in the HSE, Garda, and local government joined forces to warn that Covid-19 was still spreading rapidly in the community.

Nationally, between January 5 and 18, there were 263 Covid-19 deaths recorded, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), which does not give a geographical breakdown. Of these deaths, 119 were hospitalised and 14 had been admitted to ICU.

The median age of all of Galway’s Covid fatalities is 83; the median age of the confirmed cases in Galway is 31 – the lowest of 26 counties.

See full story – and comprehensive Covid-19 coverage – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie

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