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NHS spending more than £3bn on agency staff to plug shortages

MORE than £3 billion of NHS cash was poured into the pockets of profit-driven employment agencies in the last 12 months for providing doctors and nurses to plug the gaps left by the health service’s continuing staffing crisis.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said the cash was spent as nurses were being told by the government that “a pay rise for nursing is unaffordable.”

And the £3bn is a 20 per cent increase on last year’s NHS spending in England on agencies, and amounts to £2,500 for a single nurse shift, according to figures obtained by the BBC and Labour.

The NHS has 47,000 nursing vacancies and 10,000 doctor vacancies among 132,000 total staff vacancies.

RCN members have voted for strike action throughout Britain for the first time in the college’s 106-year history over pay and workloads.

The union’s general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said that the money spent on agencies was “yet another sign of the short-sighted workforce planning in the NHS.” 

“What makes this even worse is this excessive spending comes out of budgets that pay for patient care and there are still tens of thousands of nursing vacancies,” she said.

“We are told a pay rise for nursing is unaffordable and yet billions of pounds is being spent on agency staff.

“This lack of logic need to be reversed when the Chancellor makes his budget statement next week. Nursing and patients deserve better.”

Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that the drain of NHS cash to employment agencies was “infuriating.”

He said: “Despite being short of more than 10,000 doctors, the Conservative government this summer cut medical school places by 30 per cent, meaning more students who want to help are being turned away.”

Royal College of Physicians president Dr Sarah Clarke said that doubling the number of medical students to 15,000 would cost £1.8 billion per year – cheaper than the cost of agency staff.

“But in the longer term, it is fixing the workforce issue,” she said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said spending on agency staff fell by a third overall between 2016 and 2021, and that the NHS had been commissioned to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff.


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