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Staffing agencies cash in on NHS nursing shifts over bank holiday

NHS hospitals across the country paid more than £1,000 for agency nurses and locum doctors to fill shifts on a public holiday, new figures show.

One Bristol hospital paid £1,800 for a nurse on the May Day Bank Holiday, while another in Morecambe parted with £2,500 for a locum doctor to work the same day.

The figures, obtained by Sky News through a Freedom of Information request, also show how half of the doctors working at a West Midlands hospital on 5 May this year were locums.

“This is something that should be looked at with the utmost urgency”

Peter Carter

Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “These figures are truly shocking.

“Agency nurses do not provide good value for money and the employers who use these extraordinary levels should be held to account for it,” he told the broadcaster.

“This is public money that is not being well spent,” he said. “This is something that should be looked at with the utmost urgency.”

Eighty of the 150 NHS trusts in England responded to the request, which asked how many agency staff they employed and the highest rates paid on the first May Bank Holiday.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust paid an agency £2,500 for a locum doctor to work single shift, while four others paid more than £1,100.

Meanwhile, University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust paid £1,800 for a nurse on a shift of just over 12 hours, working out at around £150 an hour, as four other trust’s spent more than £1,200.

Half of the doctors working at The Heart of England Trust, in the West Midlands, on 5 May were locums, and in three others, including Shrewsbury and Telford Trust, almost one in three nurses were from agencies.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We now have 6,700 more doctors and 6,200 more nurses directly employed by NHS organisations than in 2010.

“The figures are not a full picture of staffing in the NHS, but we encourage all trusts to maintain a tight grip on their staff costs and we will hold poor performers to account.”

Nurse and National Health Action Party spokeswoman Kathryn Anderson, who has worked agency shifts, blamed the government.

Kathryn AndersonKathryn Anderson

She said: “The outrageous amounts paid for agency staff is just a symptom of a situation created by this government through its cuts to NHS staff and funding. 

​But she added: “​From first hand experience, I know that hospitals do not use agency staff lightly – senior ward staff need to jump through hoops before an agency nurse is allowed.

​”​It should also be remembered that the amounts quoted are the amounts the hospital pays the agency, not what the nurse receives,” she said.

Ms Anderson suggested the government should consider a cap on the hourly amount an NHS hospital will pay an agency for both nursing and medical personnel.


Readers' comments (23)

  • the chief exec and finance director should be could not make this up!!!

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  • The only way nurses are able to make decent money at the moment is by doing overtime with a private agency! I think the whole pay situation is ridiculous for nurses, not even entitled to a 1% pay rise? I'm a student nurse and I am considering working at these agencies alongside my NHS job. In real terms nurses have taken a HUGE pay cut. It's not our fault the government and NHS spend their budgets irresponsibly. The NHS need to start appreciating their staff before they're all lost to the private sector. A lot of the nurses on my placement's didn't even get breaks on a 12.5 hour shift. The working conditions are atrocious. Something needs to be done, before it's too late.

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  • This headline is misleading. The nurse was NOT paid £1800 for the shift. The NHS was CHARGED £1800 for the shift. Rather a large difference!

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  • Being at the wrong end of austerity measures is tougher on the lower end of payscale.
    How many nurses are putting in unpaid overtime? and for those that do Bank shifts, above contracted hours, are not on overtime rates - it's just more regular rates. No wonder why staff turn to agencies to get more money, as we've got to make ends meet.
    Scrapping agency + bank, then lack of staff would be even more apparent and patients care more affected.

    Quoting from finance sector 'if we want high quality staff, they've got to be paid for and have decent level of remuneration'

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  • Private companies will always be waiting in the wings when a hospital cannot manage a good nurse bank and don't treat their staff well. I call that poor staffing management.
    The agency nurses will always be welcome when there is no one for the patients and thank goodness for them, as we have managers in the NHS, I often wonder how they got their job.

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  • to attract the best you need to pay the best, no complaints about paying bankers, once again the media exaggerates, no nurse would get that amount, no mention of locum managers, or other health care professionals, no mention of all the unpaid hours nurses do the tax payer more than than the taxpayer notices, no mention of the fact the average nurse wage isn't even an average wage, good luck to the talented nurses who can get paid properly, I don't begrudge them any of it

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  • 'good value for money' or 'safe staffing levels'

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  • How can it be justifiable to pay the private sector more for 1 shift than that which many nurses and midwives don't even take home for a month, this is scandalous. Myself and my colleagues Are currently £200 to £300 a month worse off than we were 3 years ago due to changes in terms and conditions and this along with the disgusting 1% non consolidated award demonstrates the low regard that the current govt holds for NHS professionals . Even when NHS staff do extra shifts on the bank they are often only paid at minimal levels often at a lower grade than that which they are employed in their main employment...... Yet we do it and regularly to ensure that care is not compromised. It would be interesting to see how much the nurse actually got in the pay packet and what percentage went to the agency, maybe a freedom of information request should be made in this instance

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  • Kathryn Anderson | 31-Jul-2014 5:36 pm

    Exactly, and headlines in the press are misleading the public. Another ploy, I guess, to put a nail in the coffin of nurses pay.

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  • I think it's a 50/50 split, so it's still pretty good money for the nurse. I'd do agency work myself but I can't be bothered with all the admin and hassle (and I'd have to go and do training in my own time because agencies like to see that you are up to their individual standards). I do occasional overtime at overtime rates - I did a bank holiday this year which meant I was working alongside one of the regular staff but getting paid more, even though I was less use because I wasn't regular staff - which doesn't seem fair, does it?

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  • Our Doctors get paid £5000 for a weekend as a locum. The risk for the hospital if they do not report a scan that is positive may run into hundreds of thousands in compensation. There are always opportunist companies that will exploit a situation. Safety is paramount though.

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  • No overtime or zero hours in my trust, all have to sign on to NHS Professionals to do extras, at a so called 'enhanced rate'. Unless they can't get anyone then, miraculously, they manage to allow overtime. The situation is crazy. Just pay staff a decent wage, reward their hard work with a decent pay rise, give them the terms and conditions they need to stay healthy and give good patient care and you WILL NOT NEED the agency nurses to the same extent. Staff feel used and abused by the system and feel less inclined to go the extra mile when it's needed. Let's face it, what thanks do you get

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  • loulou22
    I fear it is already too late. If the Tories get in next May they will continue to dismantle the NHS,if Labour get in it will be a massive task to repair it

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  • NHSP is OK in my opinion, as an HCSW Ive got slightly more money ph than in my permanent workplace (pound more), and they charge the trust about two or three pounds on the top of that, while every private agency charges nearly as much as a double workers pay.

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  • An interesting debate. The NHS was charged this amount... The nurse gets half the agency gets half and this was at specialist rates .. Ie AE/ITU. One trust I worked in offered their staff " double time" to work extra shifts because so many staff are leaving due to being overworked and poor pay... No one would work as the staff are too tired, too stressed and demoralised... This is why wards/units have to go to agencies. Agencies have been around for over 15 years and generally provided well trained nurses who can work independently without putting extra stress on the NIC... Cap rates???? Maybe, but if those agencies can't provide nurses then trusts may have no other option to go to higher agencies... Or work without a nurse to look after 12 or more patients....

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  • I know of nurses who prefer to work for agencies. Why? Because they can earn in 2 or 3 days what it would take them earn in a week working for the NHS. Only draw back is that the work might dry up The other is no pension but that wont be a problem soon will it?

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  • I don't think there's any problems about the work drying up. If everyone didn't work flat-rate bank hours, then employers would either have to pay correct overtime rates or try running wards without adequate staff, and gamble that ligitation, fines and loss of reputation won't hurt them. Suppose that's why some at the top change clothes and move into another organisations.

    No pensions? With working age ever increasing and considering those on benefits are in some cases living far better lifestyles that those working full-time, its not going to worry some people.
    Other people couldn't even be bothered to look after themselves, and expect to be looked for free after when the time comes.

    If money isn't everything - you don't see MPs giving up 2/3rds of their salaries to poor nurses.

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  • Dear Ed, thank you so much for adapting the headline. Much appreciated! Regards, Kathryn Anderson PS great comments here!!

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  • Last year my Trust offered qualified nursing staff the "opportunity" to buy additional holiday or to reduce their weekly hours, because they admitted they needed to reduce labour costs.

    Now, they are begging CPN's to work additional shifts in the community as they are short of staff. There are just two problems with this: 1. Most CPN's are actually working full-time Mon - Fri 9-5 as they couldn't afford to reduce their hours; and even if it were feasible to work outside these hours, they will not pay enhanced rates. Consequently, no one is prepared to do it, so they have to employ agency staff who are paid at a higher rate, and on top they have to pay the agency. Madness or what????

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  • We have the same problem with overuse of private agency nurses here in the US. Out of the £150 per hour cost, nurses would get less than one third this amount. I have been a nurse for 20 years at a public hospital that has a union, so our annual raises tend to be around 2.5-3% per year. However, non-union and government-employed nurses tend to make much less.

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