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Nursing costs fight

NURSING agencies are expecting a backlash from public and private hospital moves to reduce costs associated with the use of agency nurses.

The nursing shortage has led to a huge expansion in agency numbers. Ten years ago there were about five agencies. There are now 29.

The Health Department is set-ting up Nurse West, a central bureau that will link hospitals with agencies and the Health Department’s own pool of casual nurses.

Through Nurse West the Government will also set up a generic agency agreement that will stipulate safety and professional standards.

However, there are no moves to set fees through the agreement, as has been done in Victoria.

Last year Government hospitals and health services spent $29 million on agency nurses, about 8 per cent of its total wages bill.

Health Department principal nursing adviser Phillip Della said what was of greater concern to Government was that the percentage had been increasing by 2 per cent each year.

Major private hospital owner Mayne Health, which operates Joondalup Health Campus and The Mount, Glengarry and Attadale hospitals, has entered into a preferred agency provider agreement with Origin Healthcare. That agreement sets an agreed payment rate with the agency.

St John of God Healthcare, which has hospitals in Subiaco and Murdoch, is considering whether it will enter into a preferred provider agreement with one or two nursing agencies and it is understood that Ramsay Healthcare, which operates Hollywood Hospital, is considering a similar arrangement.

Besides reducing costs, hospital administrators say they want to ensure a greater consistency of nursing care.

The Recruitment and Consulting Services Association has formed the RCSA Special Interest Group, which is made up of 10 nursing agencies.

A statement from the group, in response to questions from WA Business News, says it is unclear how the changes will affect the industry.

It says there has been some exploitation of the nursing short-ages by some agencies.

“The Special Interest Group was formed by concerned agencies dedicated to maintaining high standards of service provision,” the statement says.

One member of the group said several agencies had been disappointed with Mayne Health’s preferred agency arrangement because no WA-based agencies had been given a chance to tender for the work.

St John of God Healthcare Subiaco CEO Neale Fong said that if his hospital could reduce its agency costs it could save hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Besides the cost, there were difficulties using agency nurses be-cause the hospital was not always sure whether they had appropriate insurance.

Mayne Health public affairs general manager Rob Tassie said the preferred provider arrangement the company had with Origin did not exclude other nursing agencies.

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