Northern Trust spends £1.9million on agency cleaners

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The Northern Trust has racked up one of the highest bills in Northern Ireland for cleaning, cooking and security services carried out by agency workers.

A total of £1.9m was paid by the trust, which operates the Mid Ulster Minor Injuries Unit and Antrim hospital, to outside agencies for support workers, including orderlies, porters and warehouse staff.

The highest bill, £2.2m, was paid by the Southern Trust, while the South Eastern Trust had the lowest bill, £113,792.

The wide difference in the costs, at a time when the local trusts are under unprecedented budgetary pressures, has caused alarm.

A spokesperson for the Northern Trust said: “Agency staff are used when a role at a particular time cannot be filled by a Northern Trust employee. This can include cover for vacancies, absence, including sickness absence and increase in demand for services due to winter pressures. Using agency staff helps us ensure that safe services are provided and maintained for our service users.

“The Trust is working hard to manage agency staff costs through a range of measures. This includes reducing sickness absence by training managers, early referral to our Occupational Health Service, stress management training, resilience training and better management of unacceptable absence.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a clampdown on spiralling agency staff bills in June, after revealing it cost the NHS as a whole £3.3bn last year.

The figure - up from £1.8bn three years earlier - was more than the cost of that year’s 22 million A&E admissions combined, and included more than £600m spent on management consultants, as well as clinical staff used to fills gaps on understaffed wards.