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NHS chiefs paid £1,900 to cover a single nursing shift as thousands of temporary workers were hired to fill chronic staff shortages.
The extent of NHS Scotland’s reliance on temporary staff has been exposed in figures showing that the bill for private sector nurses has tripled to £92 million in the last five years.
In the past two years alone, the figure has doubled, according to official government data, with a single nursing service costing health care £1,900.
The data also showed that more than 57,000 services were covered by private nurses in 2021-22, up 192 percent from the previous year.
Critics said the growing reliance on locums reflected the “failure of the SNP government to support Scotland’s nurses”.
The extent of NHS Scotland’s reliance on temporary staff has been exposed in figures showing the bill for private nurses has tripled to £92 million in the last five years
It comes amid rising nursing vacancies in the past year, from 4,494 to 6,209, with members of Scotland’s Royal College of Nursing (RCN) going on strike for the first time in the union’s history.
The figures were obtained in a freedom of information request by the Scottish Labor Party, whose health spokesman Jackie Baillie said: ‘This dazzling public treasury bill is the direct result of the SNP government’s failure to support Scottish nurses.
‘We are now faced with an exodus of nurses from the NHS due to mismanagement by the SNP – and the people of Scotland are expected to foot the bill. This is no way to run our NHS and no way to look after the people of Scotland.’
Miss Baillie added: ‘Nurses are doing work that is downright heroic and everything must be done to close the staffing shortages. Nevertheless, £1,900 is an eye-watering amount for one service. Clearly the NHS cannot afford SNP mismanagement.
That there are currently over 6,200 nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland is simply shocking and an indictment of years of SNP failure.
‘With the Scottish nurses forced to go on strike, [Health Secretary] Humza Yousaf must wake up to the problem and sit down with the RCN and other unions.
Hospitals are hit by a £5.5m-a-day bedblock crisis as figures show one in seven patients left on the ward is fit to be discharged
Record blocking of beds hampers efforts to fight the emergency room crisis, NHS leaders warned last night.
More than 13,500 hospital beds – one in seven – are filled with patients declared fit for discharge by doctors.
The total is three times the pre-pandemic average and as NHS overnight stays cost around £400 it could cost £5.5m per day.
Patients should be transferred to a care home or provided with home support, but staff shortages leave many languishing in wards for weeks.
The scandal contributes to fatal ambulance delays as 999 crew members wait outside the emergency room for a free bed, unable to respond to emergencies.
Category two calls, including heart attacks and strokes, now have an average response time of 59 minutes compared to the target of 18 minutes.
Every month, approximately 100,000 patients have to wait more than 12 hours for a bed after arriving at the victim.
Raising national insurance by £13bn a year should push more money into social care, but not until the backlog of NHS waiting lists is cleared – a process expected to take several years.
“We cannot make the people of Scotland pay the price for the failure of the SNP.”
In some areas, health boards have paid out over £1,700 for a single nursing service, with NHS Lothian recording a payment of £1,900 in 2020/21.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said vacancies were at a “dangerous level” and staff were “overwhelmed”.
He added: ‘Our exposed NHS is being forced to deploy more and more local staff at sky-high rates. This is the price of years of failed workforce planning by the Scottish Government.’
The total bill of private nursing agencies has more than tripled in five years, from £29 million in 2017-18.
One agency, the Scottish Nursing Guild, has received £49 million over five years from nurses’ health boards to close gaps in staff shortages, and costs are rising.
Private nursing agencies provide staff to NHS boards at short notice. They offer higher pay than standard NHS positions, but the work can be last minute and extremely short term, day and night.
The number of nurse and midwives vacancies has soared in Scotland in recent years, from 4.5 percent in March 2017 to 8.7 percent in March this year.
Scotland’s RCN has rejected a 5% wage offer from the Scottish government, saying it is a ‘real pay cut’.
Unite Scotland, the GMB and Unison have also said their members are willing to walk away.
The RCN has taken the first formal step towards union action, with a strike vote sent to members earlier this month. It said members were “upset and frustrated” that the Scottish government has failed to address the nursing crisis.
Scottish Conservative health spokesperson Dr. Sandesh Gulhane said the rising costs “paint a devastating picture of the management of the SNP.”
He said: ‘Locum nurses are an essential part of our healthcare system, but under the SNP they have become a mainstay of a chronically understaffed and dysfunctional system.
“Hospitals are clamoring for nurses, but instead of investing in growing the permanent workforce we so desperately need, the SNP charges absurd amounts of temporary staff and allowances to the private agencies that provide them.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘Spending on agency nursing is less than 1 per cent of NHS expenditure.
‘The use of temporary staff in an organization as large and complex as NHS Scotland will always be necessary to ensure essential services during times of planned and unplanned absences, such as annual leave, maternity and sick leave.
‘Most of these services are filled from the NHS Staff Bank, who are NHS staff, on NHS contracts at NHS pay.
‘We have more than 35,000 nurses and 2,900 doctors registered through the NHS Staff Bank.’