The Times reports that NHS trusts north of the border, like their counterparts in England and Wales, are spending enormous amounts of money on contracting health professionals, such as agency nurses and midwives, in an effort to maintain adequate staffing levels for frontline services.
Despite last November’s centrally imposed pay caps on nurses working through Umbrella Companies and on locum doctors, the use of agency nurses and midwives in Scotland has grown for the third consecutive year, Scottish Government figures reveal.
In 2014-15, agency workers provided cover equivalent to 191 whole-time equivalents. The figures for 2015-16 show that this has soared to 276.7 WTEs, a rise of 44.9 per cent on the previous year. This represents an agency pay total of £23 million, with NHS chiefs spending £64,000 on agency staff every day to plug staffing shortages and maintain patient safety.
Opposition politicians accused the SNP Government of botching NHS workforce planning. While NHS staffing levels have hit a record high, health boards are nonetheless having to rely on agency staff to keep up with rising demand for NHS services.
Between them, agency nurses and midwives covered in excess of 500,000 hours of shifts last year, while nursing and midwifery vacancies ballooned to over 2,200 in March – twice the number of vacancies open in 2012.
Labour’s health spokesman Anas Sarwar, said: “We have seen from the GP crisis and consultant vacancies rates that the SNP Government has utterly botched workforce planning in our NHS, meaning our hospitals have to turn to expensive agency staff to deliver the care patients need.”
His Conservative counterpart, Donald Cameron, added: “This is a clear indication that there are not enough staff to cover Scotland’s wards.
“It’s the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure the NHS is properly funded so it is properly staffed.”
Last month, it emerged that UK hospitals were having to breach agency pay caps under a “break glass clause” more than 50,000 times a week in order to ensure patient safety.
An analysis published in May by workforce and financial solutions outfit Liaison, which specialises in the NHS, found that English NHS trusts had overspent by £26.6 million on temporary staff in the nine weeks between 1st February and 31st March.
The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has consistently opposed caps on agency workers in the NHS as “myopic and ill-conceived.” The issue, it says, is workforce planning, and capping the pay of highly skilled and desperately needed temporary health professionals will simply deter them from taking NHS roles in favour of the private sector – a prospect that the REC warns could be a catastrophe for the NHS.