The cost of employing bank and agency nursing staff in the Scottish NHS has fallen by more than £3m, official statistics show.
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The use of bank nurses, employed by the NHS to work as needed, cost the health service £98.06m last year, down from £99.34m in 2008-09.
Agency nurses, employed by private firms, also went down from £10.39m to £8.18m over the same period. Six years ago the expenditure was £26m.
In total this saved the health service £3.14m in the past year.
Theresa Fyffe, director of RCN Scotland, said: “While I applaud the commitment of senior nurses who have driven down reliance on expensive bank and agency nurses, I struggle to see how health boards can continue to use this approach to cut costs even further. In their recent evidence to the Health Committee, many boards seemed to focus on the reduction of reliance on bank and agency nurses as one of the key ways in which they will cut costs.
“However, a significant reduction in reliance on costly agency nurses has been achieved over recent years, and frankly, less costly bank nurses are going to be increasingly needed to provide backfill for posts that health boards are refusing to fill in a further short-sighted measure to save money. With the cost of bank and agency nurses accounting for such a small proportion of the nursing and midwifery budget, there is simply very little fat left here for health boards to cut.
“Health boards need to be more realistic about how and where they can make savings that will not impact on patient care or over-burden an already over-stretched nursing workforce.”
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are continuing to ensure NHS boards across Scotland scrutinise the quality and efficiency of absolutely everything they do. These figures show this is paying off.
“The downward trend in the costs of agency nursing is evidence of this, with the money saved retained by NHS boards and ploughed back into frontline patient care.”
The annual sickness absence rate in 2009-10 was 4.75%, down 0.2% on the previous year but still short of a health service target of 4%.
Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie hit out at Ms Sturgeon’s comments after the recent announcement that 4,000 NHS jobs will be lost over the coming year, including at least 1,500 nursing posts.
“Patient care is already suffering with thousands of operations cancelled by hospitals because staff and resources are being overstretched,” she said.