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Further increase in Scotland's agency nurse staffing bill

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Spending on agency and bank nurses and midwives in Scotland has increased by just over 5% to £166.5m this year, official workforce data has revealed.

As with previous years, most of this cost was due to bank staff – accounting for £142m and up 5.5% on the year before – while agency spend was around £24.5m, an increase of 4.4%.

“Nursing staff should not be forced to take on additional hours to make ends meet”

Norman Provan

However, the rate of growth in agency nurse spending was “significantly slower” in 2016-17 compared to previous years, according to report published by NHS Scotland’s Information Services Division.

In 2011-12, the NHS spent £3.9m on agency nurses and midwives, but by 2015-16 this had jumped to £23.5m.

The amount of cover provided by agency nurses and midwives also saw only a slight increase – of 0.4% – this year, whereas in 2015-16 it had jumped by 44% compared to the year before.

In 2016-17, more than half of the increase in agency cover was down to three health boards – NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, NHS Grampian, and NHS Tayside.

The IDS report, published yesterday, also revealed that NHS nursing and midwifery vacancies rose to 2,818 in Scotland – the highest ever recorded – in 2016-17.

At the end of 2015, the government in Scotland launched a new initiative that was intended to “drive down the cost and usage of all temporary agency staff ensuring financial targets are met across NHS Scotland”.

Responding to the new report, the Royal College of Nursing in Scotland said the holding down of NHS wages in Scotland since 2011 – which had resulted in just a 1% annual increase for the past four years – meant many staff were being forced to take on additional bank and agency work.

“It is clear that without their willingness to work additional hours, the NHS would grind to a halt. But the fact remains that nursing staff should not be forced to take on additional hours to make ends meet,” said Norman Provan, associate director of the RCN Scotland.

“The skills and professionalism of nursing teams must be recognised in their pay. Warm words do not pay the bills and a real-terms pay cut is an affront to nursing staff,” he added.

In response, Scotland’s health secretary Shona Robison said NHS staffing was at a record high and that under the current government the number of qualified nurses and midwives had increased by more than 2,700.

“Scotland has led the way in the development of mandatory nursing and midwifery workload and workforce planning tools that help health boards to plan for the number of staff they require.

”Now we intend to build on our record to date and go further still – that’s why are now consulting on enshrining safe and effective NHS staffing in law,” she said.

She said that around £6 billion was spent on the NHS workforce every year and that agency staff made up just 0.4% of the overall nursing provision.

”We want to reduce agency use as much as possible and we are working in partnership with NHS health boards to reduce the cost and use of all temporary agency staff,” she added.

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