NHS ‘faces £1bn agency nurses bill’

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The NHS is on course to spend £1 billion on agency nursing staff by the end of the year due to a “payday loan attitude towards workforce planning”, a report has claimed.

Details uncovered by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) estimate NHS trusts will be spending an average of £4.2 million every year on temporary nurse cover, based on current projections.

Critics have described the spend as “wasteful of NHS finances”, leading to damaged morale among permanent staff and resulting in poorer patient care.

But the Government has said patient safety is paramount and has pledged to reduce agency spending.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the 168 trusts responding to the RCN spent a total of £27 million on agency nurses in 2012-13. The figure rose to £485 million the following year.

Based on figures for the first two quarters of 2014-15, the respondent trusts will spend £714 million on agency nurses – estimated to work out at £980 million when including those trusts who failed to respond.

The RCN’s Frontline First report shows 26 trusts are spending five times more in the second quarter of 2014-15 than they were two years earlier, while only 19 trusts are spending less than at the beginning of that time period.

Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive, said: “This report shows the true financial cost of a health service which takes a ‘payday loans’ attitude towards workforce planning, leaving itself at the mercy of agencies because it refused to invest sensibly in the past.

“What it doesn’t show is the cost to patients – over-reliance on agency staff is bad for continuity of care, and that is bad for patients.

“Cutting the supply of nurses was reckless and short-sighted but concerns were batted away in a misguided attempt to save money.

“The NHS is under immense pressure and it is now time for serious workforce investment and sensible, long-term workforce planning. Anything less will be selling future generations severely short.”

Frontline First comes against a backdrop of concern about the state of NHS trust finances, with the National Audit Office last year stating a quarter of NHS and foundation trusts were in deficit by the end of the financial year.

The report adds: “In the wake of increasing demand and a series of high-profile reports demonstrating the clear link between staffing levels and safe patient care, trusts have rightly been increasing staff levels.

“But they have been hamstrung by short-term workforce cuts, cuts to nurse training places and poor morale which is making retention and recruitment difficult.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Patient safety is top of our agenda.

“Since May 2010, we already have 21,300 more permanent clinical staff working in the NHS, including nearly 8,000 more nurses on our wards.

“We want to reduce reliance on agency staff in the longer term, and committed in the recent pay deal to work with the unions to bring the bill down.”

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said : “The over-reliance on agency staff is not just wasteful of NHS finances but it can also damage staff morale and result in poorer patient care.

“Nurses who’ve had a pay freeze for years will find it galling that the agency bill is going through the roof.

“The NHS reorganisation threw nurse training into chaos. We warned the Government it would be a false economy to cut training places and that is proved by the unprecedented use of agencies and recruitment from overseas.

“David Cameron has left the NHS seriously short of the nurses it needs.

“Labour’s plans to bring through a new generation of home-grown nurses will improve care and bring down the agency bill. We will invest £2.5 billion extra each year to recruit 20,000 extra nurses and increase training places too.

“The Government needs to find a credible way to bring down the agency bill and it should match our plans.”

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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