'˜Unsustainable' agency doctor and nurses bill tops £171m

THE GOVERNMENT has been urged to tackle the 'unsustainable' reliance on agency doctors and nurses as it was revealed the region's hospitals spent more than £171m plugging staff shortages last year.

The agency bill for doctors and nurses in Yorkshire hospitals topped £171m last year

An investigation by the Yorkshire Post showed the figure spent by hospital trusts battling to fill crucial medical care vacancies in 2015/16 went up 26 per cent in just a year - and by more than half since 2013/14.

One trust, Mid Yorkshire, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract, spent £24.8m on agency doctors and nurses, while other regions are failing to prepare or learn from previous staffing crises despite a historic reliance on agency staff, figures gained under the Freedom of Information Act show.

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Doncaster and Bassetlaw hospital trust spent over £18m last year, compared with the planned-for £1.4m - an increase of 1143 per cent - almost 13 times over budget. Sheffield Children’s Hospital saw a similar increase from its budget to actual spend - 1114 per cent.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the “overreliance” on short-term solutions is “unsustainable, bad for NHS finances and bad for patient care”.

The startling figures come a month after the Yorkshire Post revealed that hospitals in the region breached caps aimed at cutting spending on agency staff more than 58,000 times in the seven months since they were brought in by health secretary Jeremy Hunt in November.

The RCN’s operational manager in Yorkshire and the Humber, Karl Norwood said: “These figures underline just how much the NHS is struggling to find enough staff to provide safe patient care. They also show that the agency cap is not a solution to the long-term and system-wide causes of staffing shortages in the health service.

“A combination of workforce cuts, a squeeze on nurse training places, and years of pay restraint have made both recruitment and retention difficult for Trusts. As a result, hospitals are forced to use expensive agency staff to do this because of short-sighted financially driven cuts to nurse training places.”

Labour’s Don Valley MP Caroline Flint, who has previously raised concerns about the shortage of NHS nurses and Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Foundation trust’s dependence on agency staff with ministers, said the Prime Minister must act.

She said: “Thanks to the Yorkshire Post, we can now see the terrible recruitment crisis facing Yorkshire’s hospitals, and the growing cost of agency staff, filling in vital jobs.

“Theresa May cannot ignore this problem. It is clearly growing. The Government has a big decision to make. Is it going to put the NHS’s finances on a sustainable basis, by providing the year on year increases our NHS needs? Or is it going to put this problem into the ‘too difficult’ pile and put the blame on individual NHS trusts? This cannot go on.”

Regulator NHS Improvement said measures to drive down the cost of agency staffing were having a “positive impact” and had saved £500m.

A spokesperson said: “Staff who work through agencies or as locums need to realise that the in future, they will be better off seeking substantive employment within the NHS and picking up extra shifts through staffing banks than relying on the high rates paid by agencies.

“While agency staff can be useful for the NHS, their over-use is unaffordable and unfair on other staff not working an agency shift. Through these efforts, staff working for the NHS will know that their agency colleagues are not being paid over the odds for doing the same job.”