NHS bill for agency nurses will double to 1bn this year
The NHS will shell out a billion pounds hiring agency nurses this year to plug severe staffing shortages on wards, experts warn.
Figures suggest spending has doubled in the last year as the numbers of full-time nurses in hospitals has not kept pace with the rising patient demand.
A report by the Royal College of Nursing shows the NHS is projected to spend £980 million on agency nurses this year, an average of £4.2 million per hospital trust.
This is up from £485 million in 2013/4 and £327 million in 2012/3.
And previous figures have shown that some hospitals have been forced to pay agencies £1,800 to hire one nurse to work a single bank holiday shift.
The College says hospitals have been left at the mercy of these agencies as staffing cuts have left them so short of their own full-time nurses.
It also warns that many demoralised nurses are quitting their jobs and going to work for agencies as the pay is so much higher.
Earlier this week MPs on the Public Accounts Committee highlighted a similar trend amongst doctors who are leaving to earn £1,700 a day as locums.
Dr Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursoing said the NHS was & lsquo;leaving itself at the mercy of agencies because it refused to invest sensibly in the past.
& lsquo;Over-reliance on agency staff is bad for continuity of care, and that is bad for patients.
& lsquo;Cutting the supply of nurses was reckless and short-sighted but concerns were batted away in a misguided attempt to save money.’
Last Summer, figures obtained by Sky News showed that University Hospitals Bristol had paid an agency £1,800 for one nurse to cover a 12-hour bank holiday shift.
The agency would have taken a substantial cut of this money although the nurse will have earned far more than in a full-time NHS post.
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: & lsquo;The over-reliance on agency staff is not just wasteful of NHS finances but it can also damage staff morale and result in poorer patient care.
& lsquo;Nurses who’ve had a pay freeze for years will find it galling that the agency bill is going through the roof.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: & lsquo;Patient safety is top of our agenda, and so in the wake of Mid Staffs agency workers have been used to correct historic understaffing.
& lsquo;Since May 2010, we already have 21,300 more permanent clinical staff working in the NHS, including nearly 8,000 more nurses on our wards.
& lsquo;We want to reduce reliance on agency staff in the longer term, and committed in the recent pay deal to work with the unions to bring the bill down.’