Short-term workforce planning means the NHS will spend almost £1bn on agency nurses in the 2014-15 financial year, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
A report published today by the RCN warns of a projected spend of at least £980m on agency nursing staff by the end of this financial year if action is not taken – an average of £4.2m per trust.
“It is now time for serious workforce investment and sensible, long-term workforce planning”
The report also claims that the cost to the health service of agency nurses has increased by 150% since 2012-13, sparked by a recruitment surge in the wake of several high profile reports – most notably the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust public inquiry – demonstrating links between staffing levels and patient safety.
The college’s figures are based on Freedom of Information requests to trusts in England. Requests were sent to all 231 acute, community and mental health and specialist trusts at the end of October, of which 168 responded.
The RCN argues that the money used for agency nurses could have been better spent on recruiting permanent staff to help solve the problem of vacant nursing posts across the country.
It calculated that £980m was enough to pay for 28,155 permanent nursing staff, including senior nurses, and with a mix of different bands.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This report shows the true financial cost of a health service which takes a ‘payday loans’ attitude towards workforce planning, leaving itself at the mercy of agencies because it refused to invest sensibly in the past.
“The NHS is under immense pressure and it is now time for serious workforce investment and sensible, long-term workforce planning,” he said. “Anything less will be selling future generations severely short.”
The RCN’s report follows other evidence on NHS agency spend, revealed earlier in the week.
The Commons’ public accounts committee criticised the Department of Health for failing to make the most of cost-saving opportunities in the way agency staff were used by the NHS.
In a report on the parlous state of the health service’s finances, it highlighted the increasing high costs of hiring temporary medical and nursing staff, which cost the NHS £2.6bn in 2013-14, compared to £2.1bn in 2012-13.
Meanwhile, data revealed by the Welsh Liberal Democrats showed spending on agency nurses nearly doubled in 12 months in Wales and that £60m was used in this way over the last four years.
Freedom of Information responses from health boards showed that in 2013, £12m was spent on agency nurses, but a year later this figure had jumped to £23m.