Acute hospitals are spending nearly €4m a week on average on agency staff, according to new figures released today.

There has been a 60% increase in five years in the amount of money being used to pay agency staff with €270m spent last year on this.

In 2011 when Fine Gael came to power €127m was spent by the Health Service Executive on agency staff in the more than 50 acute hospitals across the country.

Agency staff are those hired on a sometimes short-term contract basis to fill staff shortages and provide cover, sometimes they include junior doctors but mostly are nurses and midwives.

The figures were released to Sinn Féin's David Cullinane TD for Waterford.

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In Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda €14m was spent last year on agency staff, up from €11m in 2011; in Portlaoise €12m was spent, up from €4m in 2011; St Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin has seen a 560% rise in agency spend, from €800,000 in 2011 to €5.3m last year; University Hospital Limerick spend has gone up from €1.9m in 2011 to €11.8m in 2015; while Galway University Hospitals has nearly doubled to €4.72m.

Some hospitals such as Monaghan General and Roscomman County show marked decreases in agency spend.

Overall the HSE managed to reduce agency spend by €24m from 2014 to last year but it is still 60% higher than in 2011.

Other figures released show that in 2015 private hospitals did 27,000 operations outsourced from public hospitals, of that more than 5,500 were outsourced from just one hospital, University Hospital Waterford.

This evening, the HSE said: "The most recently published HSE Performance Data to end July shows Agency Costs of €120 million in Acute Hospitals, representing 5.8% of the Acute Hospitals pay bill (excluding superannuation). Compared to the same period last year there has been a €2.2 million reduction in this cost.  
 
"There are challenges in recruiting nursing and consultant staff in certain specialties and therefore hospitals need to continue to employ agency  personnel to provide for continuity of services.
 
"The HSE National Service Plan sets out the requirement to reduce agency costs and a significant element of this is based upon replacing agency staff with directly employed staff."