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Spending on agency nurses in Scotland cut by £3m


The cost of employing bank and agency nursing staff in the Scottish NHS has fallen by more than £3m, official statistics show.

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.


Readers' comments (2)

  • & at the same time the spending on locum doctors doubled (according to article in the Scotsman).
    What needs scrutinising is how this has been done. It now seems 'acceptable' to run areas below minimum staffing rather than put out an agency shift, & increasingly even bank shifts aren't being put out for financial reasons. The knock on effects both for patient care, & for the staff on duty should be obvious. How does NHS Scotland intend to meet the sickness targets when running the staff into the ground? I appreciate there are a minority who abuse the NHS sick pay, but they're not the ones who will be dragging themselves guilt-ridden into work, scared of getting a sick record in current climate.
    Have NHS Scotland boards read the Boorman report?
    What will happen to the bank staff who have worked full-time & rely on the income, & whose familiarity with the wards is a godsend? - there's minimal Band 5 posts being advertised as every single one is reviewed for need before being put out. Redundancy by stealth for frontline nurses I fear, despite Scottish Government assertions to the contrary.

    It's good RCN Scotland are highlighting the truth behind the headlines. We need to be shouting about it.

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  • It makes you wonder what the agency nurses were booked in for originally? Obviously not to cover for shortages or to ensure care delivery. It must have been to make a four for bridge or a table tennis team.
    How many Stafford Enquiries do there need to be before cutting staff is seen as the last option not the first. Once again the myth that Agency staff are expensive when study after study shows that using tactical staffing is cost effective: No leave or absences to pay for ( in effect a full time NHS nurse is paid for if off sick and then an Agency nurse is booked in costing the PCT twice, at least if the Agency nurse fails to show it's free! Training is down to the agency as are all on costs e.g. payroll. So cost is not the issue.
    You cant quickly cut your own full time staff but you can cut agencies so its very short term gain and cross your fingers the next investigation isn't yours!
    Agency nurses enable care delivery to continue during staff shortfalls if a trust has long term absence issues that is down to them and to blame agencies for their fees is to cloud the issue

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