Agency nurses are being paid a “staggering” £1,500 a shift by Scottish hospitals as they struggle cover staffing shortages.
The payouts have been branded a “slap in the face” to staff nurses who are working for a “fraction of the price”.
Figures uncovered through Freedom of Information by the Scottish Conservatives have revealed that three health boards have confirmed they paid more than that amount as managers struggle to find nurses to fill gaps across the country.
NHS Lanarkshire said the highest amount it paid was £1,565 for a single shift in 2015/16, followed by NHS Lothian, which paid £1,528 to an agency the previous year.
Tory health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “It is staggering that hard-pressed health boards could find themselves paying this much to an agency for a nursing shift.
“Not only is it an astonishing waste of taxpayers’ money, but it’s a slap in the face to staff nurses who can only dream of such remuneration.
“Bank and agency nurses play an important role when it comes to helping plug gaps in the NHS. But demands of more than £1,500 for a single shift are an abuse, and one health boards should not bow to.”
In NHS Ayrshire and Arran, bosses estimated the highest single payment for a shift – defined as more than eight hours but less than 14 – was between £1,300 and £1,600. And in NHS Tayside, an agency was paid £1,251 for a single shift last year.
The Scottish Government has been repeatedly criticised for its increasing use of bank and agency nurses, as well as high levels of vacancies, with hundreds of roles lying empty for months at a time. Last year, NHS boards spent £158 million paying for bank and agency nurses to cover shifts.
Mr Cameron added: “Ministers should examine these instances of extremely high payments to agencies, and act to ensure they don’t occur again.
Health secretary Shona Robison said bank and agency staff are only used when necessary to deal with “peaks in demand.”
She added: “Agency staff make up only 0.4 per cent of overall staffing numbers and the amount of money spent on agency nurses and midwives is 11.3 per cent lower today than it was a decade ago.
“We want to reduce agency use as much as possible and earlier this year we launched a new initiative, in partnership with NHS National Services Scotland, to drive down the cost and use of all temporary agency staff.”
More than 43,100 nurses and midwives now work in the NHS, up by 2,100 since this SNP took office, she added.