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Cost of agency nurses soars

Data revealed for NHS Scotland

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 08 June 2016

The cost of hiring agency nurses in NHS Scotland has soared over the last year, according to the latest statistics.

Published by the Information Services Division (ISD), the data shows an increase from £16 million to just under £23.5 million in 2015/16. The use of agency nursing and midwifery staff provided cover equivalent to 276.7 whole time equivalent (WTE) in 2015/16 compared to 191 WTE in 2014/15, representing an increase of 44.9%.

Commenting on these figures, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe said: “While the number of nursing and midwifery staff in post increased slightly (0.3%) over the last year, the vacancy rate also went up over the same period by a similar figure (from 3.3% to 3.6% in 2015/16). This clearly shows that health boards continue to struggle to fill permanent nursing posts and are having to resort to expensive agency nurses to fill the gaps."

In 2012-13, agency nurses and midwives provided fewer than 200,000 hours of cover, the official figures show. Last year this rose to more than 500,000 hours. In total, Scotland’s health boards spent £158 million on temporary nurses — £12.5 million more than in 2014/15.

“This is not sustainable,” said Ms Fyffe. “While some investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events such as sickness absence and make sure there are enough nurses to provide safe care for patients, health boards cannot continue to ratchet up spending on agency nurses, which increased by £7.5 million in the last year. That’s an increase of almost 47% in one year. 

“These figures clearly show that health boards are struggling to deliver services to more and more people, with budgets which are not keeping pace with the increasing demands on the NHS. Nursing staff are also under pressure at work, with the majority feeling they do not have time to care for patients as they would wish to.”

Ms Fyffe called for “transformational change”.

“Scotland cannot continue to deliver health and care services in the same way as now. Transformational change is needed and all stakeholders, including politicians and health and care professionals, must be willing to put vested interests to one side and work together for a common cause – to ensure our NHS is sustainable for the future.”

Scottish Health Secretary, Shona Robison, has stated that the use of agency nursing has fallen since 2006. 

NHS Employers were unable to comment.

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