Cost of agency staff rises as NHS Scotland roles lie vacant

Spending on agency staff by the NHS has doubled from �82 million in 2011-12 to �175m in 2015-16. Picture: Greg Macvean
Spending on agency staff by the NHS has doubled from �82 million in 2011-12 to �175m in 2015-16. Picture: Greg Macvean
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The NHS is struggling to fill vacant consultant, GP and nursing posts and is spending more on agency staff, according to new report by Scotland’s public spending watchdog.

An Audit Scotland briefing said there was a vacancy rate of 6.5 per cent for consultants, for GPs 5 per cent and for nurses almost 4 per cent.

Spending on agency staff has doubled from £82 million in 2011-12 to £175m in 2015-16.

Among the specialities facing the worst vacancy rates were cancer consultants (10.7 per cent); acute medical specialists (12.9 per cent); intensive care specialists (18.2 per cent); occupational medicine (22.2 per cent) and psychotherapy (22.8 per cent).

The vacancy rate for nurses has risen from around 1.9 per cent in 2011-12 to around 3.8 per cent in 2015-16.

Opposition politicians yesterday claimed the Scottish Government was presiding over a staffing crisis and expressed concerns at the number of health professionals heading for retirement.

The briefing found that more than one-third of nurses were over 50.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “The SNP has been in sole charge of health for a decade, and these failings are entirely its responsibility. It hasn’t sufficiently staffed wards, 
has the wrong priorities, and has failed to train enough nurses.

“The Scottish Government has been warned for years about the impact of an increasing and ageing population. Yet these warnings have been ignored, and now patients and overstretched workers are paying the price for that negligence.”

And Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “Expert after expert is speaking out and telling the SNP ­government about the workforce crisis that has developed on its watch. 

“The blame for this NHS workforce crisis lies squarely at the door of Bute House. It was Nicola Sturgeon as health secretary who slashed training places for nurses and midwives and our health service is now in real trouble as a result. 

“We’ve seen a decade of the SNP more focused on the short-term than building a health service fit to face the challenges of our changing country.

“SNP health secretary Shona Robison needs to get a grip – she should start by acknowledging the workforce problems in our health force.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The Scottish Government’s record on workforce planning has been woeful. It takes seven years to train a doctor, but staffing levels are only being planned five years ahead.

“The health secretary needs to explain to patients and under pressure staff how her new strategy will end this workforce crisis.”