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NHS agency staff spend almost double 2014 level, figures show

The figures look at the current staffing situation in the NHS (PA)
The figures look at the current staffing situation in the NHS (PA)

Spending on NHS bank and agency staff has almost doubled since 2014, new figures show.

NHS workforce statistics published last week show £423.4 million was paid out in the 2021-22 financial year for locum doctors and dentists and agency and bank nurses.

Nursing spending increased by 36% to £321 million, with spend on agency nurses more than doubling (126.2%) to £88.9 million.

The last two years saw the NHS forced to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since 2014-15, the figures show, the total spend has increased from £213.5 million, a rise of 98%.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the statistics are a “damning indictment of the SNP’s wasteful and inefficient management of our NHS”.

He added: “Having been both fully employed and a locum doctor with the NHS, I know that locum doctors and nurses are an essential part of our healthcare service – but under the SNP, they have become a crutch for our chronically understaffed system.

“Hospitals are crying out for full-time doctors and nurses, yet instead of focusing on growing the robust, permanent workforce Scotland needs, the SNP has allowed dangerous staffing shortages to arise across the country while papering over the cracks with temporary staff.

“Some of this locum spending will have even gone towards permanent staff or retirees begged to take on extra shifts in order to plug the enormous gaps in the workforce.

“It is also particularly concerning to see such huge increases in spending on agency staff, as this not only comprises the salaries of temporary doctors and nurses, but fees paid to the private agencies that supply them, as well.

“Our NHS workforce is rapidly reaching a crisis point and unless (Health Secretary) Humza Yousaf urgently commits to an ambitious overhaul of workforce planning, this wasteful, dysfunctional system will only get worse.”

The figures show the NHS workforce is at its highest level since at least 2012.

Some 181,723 members of staff work in the NHS, as of March 31 this year, rising from 153,426 in 2012, a jump of 18.4%.

But vacancy rates remained high, with 6,209 whole time equivalent nursing posts available and 499 for doctors and dentists.

The turnover rate also rose from 5.7% in 2020-21 to 9% in 2021-22, with 19,309 leaving the NHS in the past year and 15,389 joining – the highest number of new-starts on record.

Sandesh Gulhane in Holyrood
Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the figures are a ‘damning indictment’ of the Scottish Government (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour freedom of information requests found the Fife, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Dumfries and Galloway, Tayside, and Lothian health boards spent a total of £258.9 million on locum doctors since 2017.

The party’s health spokeswoman and deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Under the SNP, the level of vacancies for doctors and consultants is increasing, leaving huge gaps in services. But instead of addressing the problem they come up with short-term fixes.

“This recruitment crisis has happened because the SNP has spent 15 years mismanaging our NHS service. Anyone looking at these locum figures can see that this is an unsustainable way to manage NHS staffing.

“By failing to recruit permanent staff through attractive pay and conditions, the SNP has forced our NHS to become an addict to short-term staffing fixes. This is an expensive sticking plaster that highlights the endemic lack of long-term strategy from the SNP health minister.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Spend on agency nursing in Scotland – utilised during the pandemic – represents less than 1% of the overall staffing budget with the majority of temporary staffing coming from the NHS Staff Bank, which has NHS staff on NHS contracts.

“Despite the pressures of the pandemic we have already delivered a record number of GPs working in Scotland, with more per head than any other country in the UK, and we’re committed to further increasing the number of GPs in Scotland by 800 by 2027.

“We are on track to meet that commitment and have also recruited over 2,400 healthcare experts through the GP Contract to support practices.

“We are fully aware of the difficult circumstances that boards and front-line staff are working in, which is why we have worked hard to ensure that our NHS maintains the increased numbers of staff we’ve seen over the past 10 consecutive years.

“Nursing and midwifery staff numbers are at record high levels across the country – up by 14.5%. We have also continued our long-term investment in nursing and midwifery education, with record numbers of funded places this academic year. Student nurses and midwives entering funded degree programmes will increase for the 10th consecutive year in 2022-23, meaning student places have doubled in the last decade.

“We have also committed over £1 billion to our NHS Recovery Plan, and £300 million which was announced last winter to support additional recruitment, which is already paying off.”

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