NHS spending on agency workers has reached more than £300 million for the first time ever despite the First Minister saying health boards should “minimise” the use of such staff, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has said.
Ms Davidson criticised the increasing cost of locum medical staff to the health service, saying “taxpayers are shelling out a third of a billion pounds on locums and private agency workers despite assurances that numbers would go down and not up”.
She challenged Nicola Sturgeon on the “spiralling cost of locums” after figures this weekend showed almost a quarter of Scotland’s GP practices have at least one medical vacancy.
Ms Davidson said: “Just over a year ago, I asked the First Minister at First Minister’s Questions about the spiralling cost of locums, medical staff brought in at huge expense because there aren’t enough NHS staff to fill shifts.
“Last year the First Minister was clear health boards should minimise their use of agency staff.
“We’ll, we’ve looked again at the cost of locum staff using Freedom of Information and it has now risen again, breaking the £300 million barrier for the very first time.”
She pressed Ms Sturgeon on the “SNP’s mismanagement” of the NHS at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
Ms Davidson said: “Just four years ago, only one in 10 GP surgeries was missing a doctor, now it’s one in four. That is not progress.
“I’ll spell it out - it is because under the SNP GP services are in crisis and we’ve known it for months.
“Here is the Government’s record - 160 fewer GPs, vacancies trebling in the last five years, a third of GPs in post now nearing retirement and an entire NHS propped up by expensive private agencies to fill the gaps left by poor workforce planning.”
Ms Sturgeon, a former health secretary, defended the SNP’s record on the NHS, saying the number of people working in primary care was at a record high when nurses and other health professionals were included as well as GPs.
She said: “Let me also talk about the record of this government - record funding in our National Health Service, record numbers of people working in our National Health Service, a 10% increase since this government took office, extra money being committed to primary care and general practice.”
She pointed to the target the Scottish Government has set to increase the share of health spending that goes to primary care to 11 per cent.
With Tory MSPs having voted against the SNP government’s spending plans in last month’s budget, Ms Sturgeon insisted: “It is simply not credible for the Tories to come to this chamber and say somehow they think there should be more investment in the NHS when they voted against the investment we are already making.”
On the issue of agency spending by the NHS, she said: “The combined medical and nursing agency costs represent just around 2% of the overall staffing budget.
“Ruth Davidson might be interested to know that that is a third less proportionately than it is south of the border, where the Conservatives are actually in government.
“I know that Ruth Davidson doesn’t like this but let me be clear: we don’t judge ourselves by standards elsewhere, we set our own standards.
“When Ruth Davidson, or any other member of the opposition, stands in this Parliament and says ‘it would all be better if only my party was in government’, then it is legitimate to look at where their party is in government.
“Unfortunately for Ruth Davidson, that doesn’t paint a very pretty picture.”