Health chiefs slash agency staff hours in bid to save cash

THE use of agency nurses in the Lothians is being phased out after bosses cut their hours by two-thirds.

It has emerged that spending on private staff dropped to 1 million in the last year, compared with 3m in 2010 and higher sums in previous years.

The use of "bank" nurses has also been slashed, with spending on them falling by about 2m to 14m.

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With hardly any nursing vacancies in the area, it will lead to difficulties for graduate nurses and midwives trying to secure permanent work.

Concern has also been expressed by unions about the reluctance to draft in temporary staff, which they say puts more pressure on staff nurses.

Melanie Hornett, nurse director for NHS Lothian, said: "We have been working to reduce the use of agency staff over a number of years and are pleased with our progress.

"By using our own staff bank of registered nurses we can ensure that wards and departments have the appropriate staffing levels on a daily basis.

"Having the right staff in the right place is key to delivering safe, effective and patient- centred care.

"We continue to recruit to nursing vacancies as soon as these arise to maintain staffing levels."

However, prospects for student nurses could hardly look worse, with only 21 vacancies existing at the end of March.

At the same time two years ago, there were nearly 400 nursing jobs available.

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The figures, released by ISD Scotland, highlight the importance of the NHS Lothian bank, where semi-retired nurses or those looking for extra shifts volunteer to fill in vacancies left by sickness and holidays.

Their use fell from 1.2m hours last year to little over one million this year. Agency nurses dropped from 70,000 hours to 28,000.

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh, said: "While reducing reliance on expensive agency nurses to provide backfill is welcome, the reduction in use of bank nurses means that staff left in post are doing more and more work with less staff.

"The resulting pressure that nurses and others are under has consequences for patient care."

Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: "There are more doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives working in Scotland's hospitals and community settings now than at the start of the previous parliament.

"While there has been a reduction in the number of people working in NHS Scotland in the last year, the actual reduction has been much lower than projected."