NHS spent almost £500k a day on agency staff, report shows

The Scottish Government spent almost £500,000 a day on agency staff for the NHS last year, new figures show.
Picture: John DevlinPicture: John Devlin
Picture: John Devlin

Agency workers for health boards cost the government around £171 million in 2016/17, or £469,543 per day.

The Conservatives said the figures, disclosed by Health Secretary Shona Robison in an answer to a parliamentary question from party health spokesman Miles Briggs, indicate the government has “failed” to ensure sufficient staff levels in the NHS.

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Miles Briggs said: “Agency staff are really important in our NHS as they are flexible and can fill short-term staffing gaps, as well as reducing waiting lists.

“However the SNP mismanagement of the NHS has clearly led to a long term reliance on agency staff at very high cost.

“These figures expose the utter hypocrisy of the SNP as it has consistently spoken against private involvement in the NHS whilst spending half a million pounds each day to agency staff.

“The SNP has totally failed to ensure that staffing levels in the NHS are sufficient, and with morale at rock bottom among doctors and nurses, this will only get worse.

“It’s time the SNP took responsibility for this situation, get on with the day job, and make sure our NHS has enough staff to function properly”

The figure is down £2.8 million on the previous financial year but has risen by around £76 million in a decade.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Annually, the NHS spends over £6.5 billion on staffing. NHS staffing levels in Scotland are at a record high level, have increased by over 12,400 under this government and the cost of agency staff has reduced in the last year.

“To support our twin approach of investment and reform, the draft budget increases the health resource budget by more than £400 million, taking it to a record high of over £13.1 billion and providing additional investment in frontline NHS boards of 3.7%.

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“All NHS boards have clear action plans in place to reduce the use of agency staff further, as well as arrangements to ensure that when temporary staff are required, agency are the last resort.”

Several health boards have seen dramatic increases in their spending on agency staff, including Ayrshire and Arran where there was an increase of almost £3 million, and Grampian where the figure rose by £4 million.

Norman Provan, Associate Director Employment Relations, at the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “Health boards continue to struggle to fill permanent nursing posts and are having to resort to expensive agency nurses to fill the gaps. While some investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events like sickness absence to ensure safe patient care, health boards cannot continue to ratchet up spending on agency nurses. This is not sustainable and the lack of continuity for nursing teams can impact on the quality of patient care and on staff morale. The Scottish Government has the opportunity to address these workload challenges with its proposed safe staffing legislation, safeguarding nursing in Scotland for the future.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Anas Sarwar said: “NHS agency spending is spiralling out of control because the SNP has created a workforce crisis. Our hospitals don’t have enough doctors and nurses so health boards have to turn to expensive private agencies to deliver care. It’s a false economy with our NHS having to plug gaps in staffing. That’s why Labour has launched a workforce commission which will deliver a blueprint to fix the SNP’s NHS staffing crisis.”