NHS blows 5.5billion on private agency workers to fill staffing shortage in crisis-hit hospitals
The NHS has spent a ­staggering £5.5billion paying agency staff to plug huge staffing gaps in our crisis-hit hospitals.
New figures show bosses are regularly hiring nurses for as much as £160 an hour to cope with the crippling shortages that put patients’ lives at risk.
Our probe found that NHS ­foundation trusts spent £4.3billion of taxpayers’ cash on contract and agency staff since David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010.
And standard NHS trusts – which have less financial freedom than foundation trusts– paid out another £1.2billion last year alone as they desperately tried to cover wards.
But experts fear the true cost of hiring agency nurses, midwives and other staff could be double the £5.5billion total as the Department of Health does not have records for 2010 to 2013.
The NHS has around 20,000 fewer nurses than it needs, according to Labour.
The full extent of just how much cash is being pumped into the staffing crisis can be revealed for the first time today.
In the worst case a hospital was forced to pay out £1,800 for an agency nurse to work an 11-hour shift at its A&E unit on a bank holiday.
Agencies regularly charge up to £1,000 to supply cover for a single shift. And some locum GPs have raked in almost £100,000 a year for working at weekends.
A newly qualified staff nurse earns just over £21,000.
The soaring bill for agency staff has seen David Cameron and his Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt accused of bleeding the NHS dry and leaving hospitals trapped in a “downward spiral”.
NHS chiefs at the 147 ­foundation trusts spent £855million on agency staff in the 12 months after Mr Cameron was handed the keys to No10.
That went up to £907million in 2012 and £1.1billion in 2013 before soaring to a new high of £1.4billion last year.
Worryingly, the spending spree has helped push at least 86 of the 147 foundation trusts into the red amid warnings the NHS will face a £30billion funding ­black hole by 2020.
The Department of Health could only provide last year’s figures for how much other NHS trusts spent on agency staff, £1.2billion.
But NHS insiders fear the true cost of paying agency nurses and other staff since the Coalition was formed could be as high as £10billion.
The findings are revealed after health watchdogs at Monitor warned the “high use of contract and agency staff and a need to make cost savings has put NHS foundation trusts under unprecedented financial and operation pressure”.
Last night, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said spending on agency nurses has rocketed after controversial Health Secretary Mr Hunt presided over the axing of 7,000 permanent nursing jobs between 2010 and 2013.
“The soaring bill for agency staff, now bleeding the NHS dry, is a direct ­consequence of David Cameron’s disastrous NHS reorganisation,” he said.
“The dismantling of NHS workforce planning and training structures has created a shortage of staff and left the NHS saddled with the whopping bill."
Mr Burnham warned: “This is draining NHS finances and damaging standards of patient care. This Government’s decision to axe 10,000 nurse training places was ­appallingly short-sighted and has left NHS hospitals paying an extremely high price.
“In parts of the NHS, spending on agency staff has doubled.
“Cameron’s mismanagement of the NHS has trapped hospitals in a ­downward spiral. The NHS now urgently needs a change of course and a change of ­Government. The Tories just can’t be trusted with the NHS.”
It has been revealed that private firms supplying nurses to understaffed ­hospitals have pocketed millions in profits.
To combat staffing shortages, Labour has vowed to recruit 20,000 more nurses by 2020 if it wins the next election.
But Tory Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter defended the huge amount poured into employing agency staff. He insisted many trusts hired temporary workers to meet safe staffing levels in the wake of the Stafford Hospital scandal, where several patient deaths were linked to poor care and staff shortages.
The Department of Health has said it expects NHS trusts to have a “strong grip on their finances” to manage their spending on agency staff carefully and “to minimise temporary staffing costs in future years”.