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THE government’s abolition of nursing bursaries and underfunding of medic training schemes has spectacularly backfired, as a resulting reliance on agency staff has increased costs to £480 million a year, Labour said yesterday.
Millions of pounds could be reinvested in the NHS annually if temporary vacancies are instead filled by workers from a staff bank, of NHS trust employees who have agreed to work flexible shifts, a report published yesterday by NHS Improvement suggests.
Temporary employees supplied by agencies, including doctors and nurses, cost on average 20 per cent more than those from the NHS’s staff banks, despite doing the same job.
The five most expensive locum doctors cost the NHS more than £2m per year.
One agency has been charging up to £480 an hour for its top consultant and £200 for another five.
This compares to £76.10 that the NHS would expect to pay if similar staff came from the trusts’ own banks.
NHS Improvement called on all trusts to take a “bank-first” approach to recruiting temps and only use agencies as a last resort.
Labour shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “This government’s disastrous inability to plan the NHS workforce has left patients with dangerously understaffed services and left hospitals to rely on expensive agency solutions instead.
“Short-sighted decisions including the pay cap and cuts to training and bursaries have in the long term ended up costing the NHS billions as hospitals pay thousands of pounds a day to staffing agencies for cover.
“What’s more, there is a big human impact for staff who are expected to carry out unpredictable shifts, often at short notice for months on end.
“It should be a priority for the new Health Secretary to sort this out but instead we know that a workforce strategy has been repeatedly delayed.
“The government must bring forward a sustainable, long-term workforce plan that gets enough permanent staff in place to deliver safe services for patients.”
The NHS has cut spending on agency workers by £1.2bn overall, or a third, since a cap was introduced in 2015. Last year bank staff spending was higher than on agencies for the first time in several years, leading to a £528m reduction in agency spending. NHS Improvement said more money can be saved.
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