Is it really now so difficult to attract people to the medical profession that NHS trusts are forced to spend millions of pounds hiring agency staff as cover?
The answer is an extremely worrying yes. Our front page story today reveals how the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs community and mental health services in Hampshire, spent £14.5m in 2014/2015 on temporary medical staff – more than double the previous year’s amount.
The picture is just as stark at the Solent NHS Trust, which runs community and mental health services in Portsmouth.
In 2014/15, it spent £5.5m on agency staff (£1.6m less than the previous year, but still a very big bill).
And South Central Ambulance Service has spent more than £6.8m since April last year on private providers, while the numbers of paramedics being hired has gone down.
Surely this kind of spending can’t go on forever. But what choice do trusts have if they need a certain level of cover to ensure patient safety?
The answer has to be in making the medical profession more attractive. There are too many potential NHS medics being lost, while nurses fed up with overstretched resources are leaving.
Meanwhile, junior doctors resort to strike action to demonstrate their anger at new contracts they claim will mean them working too many hours and put patients at risk.
Ensuring the NHS can attract and retain its own workforce means better nursing training and looking at the re-introduction of student bursaries to encourage people to study medicine at university.
Plus we must not allow our junior doctors to become so disillusioned that they quit.
Because without a flow of young workers into the NHS, how can that alarming agency bill ever come down?