Local nurses leaving ‘in droves’ to work with agencies

LOCAL emergency care nurses are leaving the public health system in their droves for agencies, while 90 per cent of newly qualified local doctors are either leaving the country or are starting their career as locums.
That was the message from Western Trust HR director Karen Hargen and medical director Dr Brendan Lavery during a discussion on finance and staffing levels at the January meeting of the Trust board.
During that meeting it also emerged that while the Trust had reduced its use of medical locums, as per a directive from the Department of Health, a significant increase in the cost of junior doctor locums meant it was actually now spending more on locums.
Mr Hargen was speaking in response to a presentation by Trust finance director Eimear McCauley, during which she revealed the Trust had reduced its forecast deficit from £10.3 million to £6 million. As part of that presentation, Ms McCauley noted agency and locum spending had been continuing to rise at the Trust.
When asked about nurses leaving to work for agencies, she said, “We have staff who are resigning completely and going to work for agencies, and giving themselves a level of flexibility in how and when and in which wards they work. We have some others who reduce their hours and will chose also when they work.”
She added the pressures on the public health system hadn’t been helping.
“That pressure has been sustained over a course of two years now, three years. Since Covid started there are some of those areas that really haven’t had a break at all,” said Ms Hargen. “They are very challenging environments for nurses to work in.
“I think what we are finding is some staff are taking control of that for themselves and deciding they will leave, work in a different way, and reducing their hours.”
Ms Hargen said the Trust was working with its nursing staff who needed flexibility, and also tried to explain to those who were leaving for agencies that they will be losing on on benefits such as pension and life insurance.
“The feedback we get on a fairly regular basis is that people are making their own arrangements, or they are of an age where those sorts of things aren’t important to them, where they take the view that cash in hand is more important to them than a pension that may be 20 or 30 years away for them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr Lavery revealed that most newly qualified doctors here do not enter the local health system after qualifying.
“At the minute, less than 20 per cent of doctors who complete their FY2 year are going on to training posts,” he said.
“That’s a combination of either leaving the country either to go to New Zealand or Australia or working in locums. That’s where we are. It’s a big issue.”
Finally, chief executive Neil Guckian revealed the cost of junior doctor locums had jumped over the past year.
“It’s actually counteracting the great work that was done as part of the recovery plan to help manage and reduce the reliance on locums in the Trust,” he said.
Mr Gucikan added the Trust had also needed to hire more agency and locum staff in recent times due to the demand pressures on the system at the moment, noting “we have to bring in extra staff to make sure patients are safe.”

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