NHS trusts in the South West of England have seen their agency nurse bill more than quadruple in the past four years, from around £12m in 2010 to more than £60m in 2014.
Across 22 trusts in the region, all but two saw their spending on agency nurses rise over the period, according to data collated by the Royal College of Nursing.
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust spent the most on agency nursing in 2014, with a bill of £6.1m – up more than 15 times the £389,000 it spent in 2010.
The RCN data, which was collected via Freedom of Information requests to all 26 NHS trusts in the region, also revealed steep rises in agency spending at North Bristol NHS Trust, Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust and Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
North Bristol spent £5.93m on agency nursing in 2014, compared to around £350,000 in 2010, while Plymouth saw its agency nurse bill rise from just £73,000 in 2010 to £2.43m in 2014.
“Like NHS trusts across the country, we are actively investing in recruiting more permanent nurses”
North Bristol NHS Trust
Over the same period, Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust went from spending around £1.1m to £5.2m.
North Bristol NHS Trust’s director of nursing Sue Jones said its priority was to ensure safe staffing on wards.
She said: “We have an in-house nursing bank which is always our first port of call to fill shifts but, inevitably on occasions, there will be times when we require agency nurses, often at short notice.
“Like NHS trusts across the country, we are actively investing in recruiting more permanent nurses,” she said.
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said it also used agency nurses as an “absolute last resort”, after considering redeploying nurses from other wards, utilising overtime or using bank staff.
A spokeswoman for the trust added that it had undertaken recruitment drives in recent years. She said: “The trust’s staff in post has increased by over 270 additional nurses and healthcare assistants or clinical helpers since March 2011. These initiatives will continue throughout 2015 and beyond.”
“[Recruitment] initiatives will continue throughout 2015 and beyond”
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust
Agency nurse spend at Great Western Hospitals was now coming down since a peak in 2013 of £6.35m, said a spokesman for the trust.
He said his was due to “steady progress” in recruiting permanent employees since April 2013, which had resulted in 457 extranurses working at the trust.
“We continue to experience a significant increase in demand for our services against the backdrop of a national nursing shortage, which is affecting all NHS trusts,” he added.
“While the arrangement is by no means ideal, agency staff do offer a short term solution and provide an invaluable service in covering unplanned absences at short notice and supporting teams who are extremely busy caring for a growing number of patients,” said the spokesman.
“It takes three years to train a nurse, so we need action now to ensure that the UK has the nurses required”
The RCN said the use of agency staff by trusts to address the current shortfall in nurses was costing the NHS a “huge” amount of money and called for immediate action from the incoming government to tackle the problem.
Jeannett Martin, RCN regional director for the South West region, said: “An already overstretched workforce is trying to carry out even more work in even less time so NHS trusts are trying to plug the gap.”
She added: “It takes three years to train a nurse, so we need action now to ensure that the UK has the nurses required to provide patients with the care that they need.”
The South West situation mirrors a national trend towards the use of more agency staff, as trusts have reacted to concerns about safe staffing levels after the Francis report in 2013 and new regulations and guidance from NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, respectively.
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|Trust||Agency Spend in 2010 in £||Agency spend 2014 in £|
|Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust||2,195,993||1,986,185|
|Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust||335,396||344,433|
|Devon Partnership NHS Trust||870,143||2,257,797|
|Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust||726,638||1,097,683|
|Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust||784,224||3,704,242|
|Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust||1,073,657||5,201,080|
|North Bristol NHS Trust||348,698||5,929,493|
|Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust||802,943||4,137,488|
|Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust||73,106||2,430,000|
|Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust||471,150||2,994,869|
|Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust||663,667||3,698,300|
|Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust||389,166||6,119,000|
|Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases NHS Foundation Trust||5,610||0|
|Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust||352,009||3,428,700|
|Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust||544,321||2,135,617|
|Taunton & Somerset NHS Foundation Trust||782,000||1,217,841|
|Torbay and Southern Devon Health and Care NHS Trust||n/a (not formed at this point)|||1,109,903|
|University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust||843,030||4,981,980|
|Weston Area Health NHS Trust||61,000||1,997,431|
|Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust||931,445||2,505,134|
|2gether NHS Foundation Trust||229,987||1,805,689|
|Gloucester Care Services NHS Trust||n/a (not formed at this point)||2,178,771|