Leader comment: spending £250m on locums is a false economy

Another day and another round of depressing statistics about our health service.

£250m was spent by Scottish health boards last year on filling gaps in rotas

Scottish health boards spent close to £250 million last year on locum doctors and nurses to fill in gaps in their rotas, a hefty £41m increase on the previous year.

This is not only a waste of money but also a lose-lose situation for the staff, the Scottish health service, the politicians and of course the public.

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Agency staff often come with a higher price tag than NHS staff and, while many are great at their jobs, they rarely have the experience or local knowledge needed to deliver the best patient care.

Nurses and doctors would probably prefer to have trusted and experienced colleagues around them in challenging situations, rather than a revolving door of agency workers who can focus only as long as their shift lasts.

There will always be a need for some agency staff because it provides flexibility for health boards, but these significant costs reveal the deep-rooted staffing problems NHS Scotland is facing.

Nursing and midwifery vacancies have risen for the fifth year running, radiologists are barely keeping up with demand and barely a day goes by without fresh agony over the GP crisis.

The repetitive chorus from the Scottish Government that staffing numbers have reached record levels has worn thin.

Record staff numbers mean nothing in the face of record levels of demand caused by rising numbers of elderly and public health concerns such as obesity.

Endless vacancies are hardly going to instil confidence in existing staff and will likely only compound their workloads and stress levels.

It also makes Scotland a less attractive place to work for people who could easily take off elsewhere for a better work life balance.

Dedicated and talented staff are working extremely hard every day to make things work but everyone has their breaking point.

How can we expect these people to patch us up when they are under-resourced and unsupported?

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a former health secretary, has made lofty promises about education, when not talking about independence and Brexit.

Yet our health service is clearly experiencing significant challenges.

Imagine what could be done with £248m. Well for a start, let’s spend the money on having enough staff so we can fill these vacancies permanently.

Scotland is a wonderful place to live and work, and it should not be difficult to get medics to work here, as long as they feel the job is properly resourced to achieve the standards a professional expects.

We must listen to the doctors, GPs and nurses who are crying out for help to allow them to do properly the jobs they love and we so desperately need.

It is important to start taking the long view, as decisions taken now will have far-reaching implications.