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LABOUR urged the Tories today to fix the crisis of staff shortages and precarious employment in the NHS.
Information obtained by Labour through a freedom of information request shows that some NHS trusts are relying on short-term agency labour for months on end. One NHS trust had more than 600 employees on year-long agency contracts.
An ambulance trust said a staff member had worked at least one agency shift per month for 157 months, while a mental health trust in London said one worker had done so for 126 months. For nursing, the longest run was 95 months at a trust in the north-east of England.
Royal College of Nursing director of nursing policy and practice Donna Kinnair said: “Reliance on large numbers of agency staff to fill the gaps in the NHS is unsustainable.
“Failure to invest in, value and support our workforce has saved no money at all, but the bill for agency staff, recruitment fees and sickness absence through stress climbs ever higher.
“These figures expose the untenable short-staffing crisis across the NHS.
“Shortsighted NHS workforce planning in recent years has left tens of thousands of unfilled nurse jobs, to the severe detriment of patient care.
“Ministers must use the extra £20 billion promised to the NHS to fix this false economy and alleviate the chronic staffing shortages gripping the country.”
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders said that the government’s handling of the situation has been disastrous.
“Shortsighted 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,” he said.
“This reliance on agency workers is unsettling for hospitals and causing uncertainty for patients who see their continuity of care disrupted.
“The government must bring forward a sustainable long-term workforce plan that gets enough permanent staff in place to deliver safe services for patients.”
A Department of Health spokesman said that the latest available figures show that the NHS spent £525 million less on agency staff in 2017-18 than the previous year.
“We are listening to staff and are encouraging flexible working, boosting training places and have given over a million NHS employees a well-deserved pay rise,” he said.
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