Portiuncula Hospital’s big spend on agency staff

Portiuncula Hospital.

The cost of hiring agency staff at Portiuncula reached “crazy” levels with €28 million spent over the past five years.

And the bill for hiring temporary workers for the Ballinasloe hospital has increased eightfold since 2009.

Last year, the hospital spent €5.8 million on agency staff. That compares with just over half a million in 2009.

Mr James Keane, general manager of Portiuncula, confirmed the figures in response to a parliamentary question submitted by Sinn Féin.

He outlined that the hospital spent over €2.4 million on agency staff in 2013; and that jumped to €6.7 million in 2014.

The following year Portiuncula recorded its highest ever spend on agency staff with an agency bill north of €6.8 million.

It was reduced to just over €6.2 million in 2016 and had fallen again to €5.8 million last year.

Claire Kerrane, SF general election candidate in Galway/Roscommon, said Portiuncula was spending huge sums on agency staff, which was a direct result of what happens when the hospital cannot recruit and retain staff. The figures, she said, were “shocking”.

“How many full-time nurses and carers and doctors could you hire for the amount they have spent on agency staff,” she asked.

The Castlerea-based candidate said Ireland was producing some of the most highly trained nurses in the World but the figures for spending on agency staff was proof of the ‘brain drain’ hitting the public health service.

“We have the best nurses, highly trained, and they are working in healthcare; it’s just that they are working in England and Canada and Australia. We need to be attracting nurses and health care professionals to stay at home,” she said.

Ms Kerrane acknowledged some agency staff was essential in order to keep a service going but Portiuncula spending in excess of €6 million each year for three years on temporary staff was “enormous” and “crazy”. She said it was indicative of a crisis in recruitment and retention of nurses.

At the same time, Portiuncula has been praised for its hospital infection prevention and control programme. However, HIQA (Health Information and Quality Authority) said that during any planned new hospital build, the Ballinasloe hospital would have to be “supported in their endeavours in relation to the infection prevention and control programme”.

Following an unannounced inspection of the hospital in February, which included the Intensive Care and Coronary Care Unit and a surgical ward, HIQA issued its findings this week.

“The hospital had a structured antimicrobial stewardship programme in place and notwithstanding that reported rates of Clostridium difficile infection were periodically above the national target set by the HSE, there had been no outbreak of infection at the hospital in the preceding twelve-month period,” the HIQA report said.

It noted that the hospital achieved 91% compliance with hand hygiene compliance in October 2017 which shows commitment by staff to meet national hand hygiene targets. At the time of the inspection 84% of hospital staff had attended hand hygiene training in the previous two-year period.

“The hospital management team needs to regularly review the uptake of infection prevention and control training to ensure any gaps in the uptake of training is addressed,” it said.

However, HIQA found that overall the patient environment inspected was “generally clean with few exceptions and there was good ownership in relation to environmental cleaning in the areas inspected”.

There was also scope for improvement in relation to the management of patient equipment hygiene, according to inspectors.