Shock at soar­ing NHS spend­ing on tem­po­rary nurses

Health­care: Staff short­ages blamed on re­cruit­ment cri­sis

The Press and Journal (Aberdeenshire) - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN WALSH

SHOCK new fig­ures re­veal NHS Grampian’s spend­ing on agency theatre nurs­ing staff has soared from zero to more than £1mil­lion in the past five years.

The fig­ures, ob­tained by the Press and Jour­nal, come just months af­ter it emerged the health board had been forced to can­cel scores of op­er­a­tions due to staffing is­sues. In 2012-13, the board had spent no money on hir­ing agency nurses for its the­atres.

But by 2014-15, this had risen to more than £178,000, and by 16-17 the cost had rock­eted to £1mil­lion.

Last night, north-east politi­cians said the “bal­loon­ing bill” was a ma­jor cause for con­cern.

Alexan­der Bur­nett, Scot-

tish Con­ser­va­tive MSP for Aberdeen­shire West, said: “While the SNP ob­sess over an un­wanted in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, the fail­ings in the Scot­tish health ser­vice are be­com­ing clearer by the day.

“Th­ese fig­ures show a bal­loon­ing bill for agency nurses, which is an­other symp­tom of poor work­force plan­ning from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

“NHS Grampian, like many other health boards, has clearly be­come overly re­liant on agency staff to plug gaps in a work­force that is strug­gling to keep up with de­mand for ser­vices.”

And Labour MSP Lewis Mac­don­ald urged the gov­ern­ment to step in to en­sure the board was not be­ing forced to use vi­tal funds to cover gaps in front­line staff.

Mr Mac­don­ald said: “NHS Grampian is work­ing hard at the mo­ment to re­duce agency nurs­ing costs to en­sure its not di­vert­ing its re­sources away from the ser­vice.

“The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment should sup­port them through more fund­ing for per­ma­nent staff and also more sup­port for nurses and med­i­cal staff to be trained here be­cause, as we know, if you do your train­ing some­where you are more likely to stay there.”

At the be­gin­ning of the

“Staff re­cruited ac­cord­ing to ro­bust stan­dards”

year it emerged that the board had been forced to can­cel 160 op­er­a­tions at Aberdeen Royal In­fir­mary and Wood­end Hospi­tal be­tween Novem­ber and Jan­uary.

Health bosses blamed staffing short­ages and a re­cruit­ment cri­sis but in­sisted the pro­ce­dures would be resched­uled. NHS Grampian has said agency staff are es­sen­tial in cop­ing with short­ages in front­line staff.

A spokes­woman for the health board said: “Our pri­mary aim is to keep ser­vices work­ing safely and ef­fec­tively. Where gaps emerge in our core staff com­ple­ment we will look to our nurse bank; th­ese are em­ploy­ees of NHS Grampian.

“If we are un­able to cover gaps from the bank we will use agency staff. Both bank and agency staff are re­cruited ac­cord­ing to ro­bust stan­dards.”

She said the board cur­rently has va­can­cies in the theatre nurs­ing team which they have found dif­fi­cult to fill due to the re­quire­ment to train staff in what the be­lieve is a “com­plex” area of nurs­ing.

The spokes­woman added: “We re­cruited seven newly qual­i­fied prac­ti­tion­ers ear­lier this year and they are now par­tic­i­pat­ing in the rota.

“As part of our longer term plan­ning we are in­vest­ing in a band four as­sis­tant pe­ri­op­er­a­tive prac­ti­tioner de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme. We are also con­tin­u­ing to ad­ver­tise va­can­cies in this team and would en­cour­age po­ten­tial ap­pli­cants to get in touch and learn more about the roles avail­able.”

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: “A record num­ber of peo­ple work in the NHS in Scot­land and un­der this Gov­ern­ment, staffing lev­els in NHS Grampian have in­creased by 8.2%, to over 12,100 whole time equiv­a­lent.

“Any fluc­tu­a­tions in va­can­cies in NHS Grampian are as a re­sult of our ef­forts to ex­pand ca­pac­ity by re­cruit­ing even more staff.

“Agency staff in NHS Scot­land make up only 0.4% of over­all staffing num­bers and the amount of money spent on agency nurses in 2015-16 and mid­wives is 11.3% lower than it was a decade ago.

“Last year we launched a new ini­tia­tive, in part­ner­ship with NHS Na­tional Ser­vices Scot­land, to drive down the cost and use of all tem­po­rary agency staff.”

When it comes to our health, it is hard to imag­ine any­thing more stress­ful than be­ing ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal for ma­jor surgery – un­less your op­er­a­tion is can­celled at short no­tice, that is.

Pa­tients be­ing treated by NHS Grampian are suf­fer­ing from the emo­tions brought on by both sce­nar­ios. Just be­fore and af­ter the start of this year, 160 op­er­a­tions were can­celled due to short­ages in theatre staff.

Now we learn that hospi­tal bosses have spent £1mil­lion over the past year on plug­ging the gaps in theatre nurs­ing cover by hir­ing tem­po­rary NHS or pri­vate agency staff. On the face of it, this looks like smart prac­tice by bosses to cover weak­nesses in one of the most crit­i­cal ar­eas of hospi­tal care.

How­ever, it also pa­pers over un­der­ly­ing weak­nesses which seem to have wors­ened dra­mat­i­cally over the past 12 months. The re­place­ments are prob­a­bly on higher salary rates, due to the law of sup­ply and de­mand.

How­ever, this ex­tra cost chips away at avail­able fund­ing re­sources, even al­though it might be a drop in the ocean as far as over­all hospi­tal bud­gets are con­cerned.

Post­poned surgery is an ad­di­tional cause of anx­i­ety to pa­tients. Of all the things go­ing on in a hospi­tal, serious op­er­a­tions must be pri­ori­tised. There­fore, bosses are cor­rect to spend their way out of it in the in­ter­ests of pa­tient care and com­fort.

That does not hide the fact that more work has to be done on the un­der­ly­ing staffing prob­lem. Hir­ing tem­po­rary cover is a use­ful tool, but must not be­come a per­ma­nent crutch.

“Hir­ing tem­po­rary cover is a use­ful tool, but must not be­come a per­ma­nent crutch”

RIS­ING COST: NHS Grampian is be­com­ing more re­liant on agency theatre nurses

CON­CERNS: Op­po­si­tion politi­cians blame the ris­ing use of tem­po­rary staff on the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment for poor work­force plan­ning

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