Serious concerns as agency spend doubles for NHS

MILLIONS of pounds is being spent by local NHS trust's on agency staff.

Wednesday, 13th January 2016, 6:59 am
Health trusts are spending millions on agency staff

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs community and mental health services in Hampshire, spent £7m in 2012/13 on agency staff – £1.3m of that was to cover medical staff.

But by 2014-15, the figure doubled to £14.5m and equated to 319,616 hours being covered by agency staff.

Solent NHS Trust, which runs community and mental health services in Portsmouth, has also increased its reliance upon agency staff.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

In 2012/13, £4.2m was spent on agency staff. This increased to £7.1m in 2013/14, but fell to £5.5m in 2014/15.

Union Unison called the figures ‘unsustainable’ and wants the government to invest more heavily in nursing training, including scrapping plans to do away with student bursaries and replace them with loans.

Mike Wilson, regional organise for Unison, speaks regularly with Southern and Solent and said all trusts are in same predicament.

‘It’s totally unsustainable,’ he said.

‘There’s an ongoing desire for every trust has to reduce the agency spend.

‘But if they don’t have the funding to secure permanent staff and the permanent staff are not out there, it’s impossible to provide safe staffing on wards.’

He said many nurses were leaving the NHS, fed up of working in under-staffed conditions and casual agency work was more attractive.

He has known nurses to travel from as far as Birmingham to the south coast to come to work.

Mr Wilson added: ‘It’s a false economy.

‘If you don’t have enough nurses and it was a bit easier to get them into the profession, then the trusts would not spend so much on agencies.’

Julie Pennycook, director of HR and organisational development for Solent NHS Trust, said: ‘Patient safety is the key priority for the trust.

‘Therefore on occasions, when either activity and/or acuity require, or vacancies exist, the trust will draw on either bank or agency to ensure appropriate levels of staff are available.

‘The need for additional staffing fluctuates according to demand, and therefore there will be variances in figures throughout the year.

‘Active recruitment is under way and tight controls around agency use are in place.’

Southern Health provides care to hundreds of people with learning disabilities across south Hampshire and runs hospital sites such as Gosport War Memorial Hospital and Elmleigh hospital in Havant.

It comes as The News revealed that South Central Ambulance Service has spent more than £6.8m since April last year on private providers.

And it said for the first time in years it is expecting to end the year in a financial deficit.

This is despite the number of emergency calls falling for the first six months of this financial year, compared with the same time last year.

In 2014, there were 516 paramedics working at Scas, but last year that number fell to 480.

In the financial year of 2013-14, 82 paramedics were hired, but in the last financial year only 58 were hired.

Councillor John Ferrett is chairman of Portsmouth City Council’s health, overview and scrutiny panel, and said more work needs to be done to train and recruit staff.

He said: ‘Everyone on the panel recognises the cost burden agency staff put on the NHS.

‘It’s not going to get any easier unless we invest more in training and have more university places.

‘It was a mistake to remove training bursaries, because if you don’t spend the money there, you are spending more on the other side further down the line by paying more for agency staff.’

Southern Health did not provide The News with a comment.