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NHS Scotland spends £250 million on agency nurses in five years

Scottish Labour brands the number ‘eye-watering’ and calls on the health secretary to ‘wake up’ to nurse shortages and get around the table with unions

Scottish Labour brands the number ‘eye-watering’ and calls on the health secretary to ‘wake up’ to nurse shortages and get around the table with unions

The NHS in Scotland spent more than £92 million on agency nurses in the past year, with its five-year bill, topping £250 million, new figures show.

The bill for locum agency nursing staff in 2021-2022 came to £92,295,816, a 93% increase compared to the £47,627,338 spent in 2020-2021, freedom of information figures obtained by Scottish Labour show.

The figures, seen by Nursing Standard, reveal the bill for agency nurses topped £258,616,766 over the five-year period from

Scottish Labour brands the number ‘eye-watering’ and calls on the health secretary to ‘wake up’ to nurse shortages and get around the table with unions

NHS Forth Valley spent more than £48 million on agency staff in the past five years
NHS Forth Valley, one of the top five trusts in Scotland, spent more than £48 million on agency staff in the past five years. Picture: Alamy

The NHS in Scotland spent more than £92 million on agency nurses in the past year, with its five-year bill, topping £250 million, new figures show.

The bill for locum agency nursing staff in 2021-2022 came to £92,295,816, a 93% increase compared to the £47,627,338 spent in 2020-2021, freedom of information figures obtained by Scottish Labour show.

The figures, seen by Nursing Standard, reveal the bill for agency nurses topped £258,616,766 over the five-year period from 2017-2018 to 2021-2022.

The number of shifts worked by agency nurses amounted to 166,722 over the same five years. Some 57,359 of those shifts were undertaken in 2021-2022, a sizeable jump from the 19,616 shifts the previous year.

‘Facing exodus of nurses from the NHS’, says Scottish Labour

NHS Lothian recorded a payment of over £1,900 for a single nurse shift in 2020-2021, while NHS Ayrshire and Arran revealed it paid more than £1,700 for a shift. The majority of NHS boards in Scotland did not hold information on how much they had spent on a single agency shift.

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie branded the numbers ‘eye-watering’ and called on the health secretary Humza Yousaf to ‘wake up to the problem and get around the table with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and other unions’.

‘We are now facing an exodus of nurses from the NHS as a result of Scottish National Party mismanagement – and the people of Scotland are being expected to pick up the tab,’ she added.

‘This is no way to run our NHS and no way to look after the people of Scotland.’

Top 5 trusts’ agency spend over the past five years

  • NHS Forth Valley – £48,412,000
  • NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde – £36,031,000
  • NHS Grampian - £35,547,000
  • NHS Tayside – £29,836,353
  • NHS Lanarkshire – £25, 084, 400

The biggest spenders on agency staff are also some of the biggest trusts in Scotland, serving a higher number of patients.

Agency staff spend ‘remains low’, insists Scottish Government

But the Scottish Government insisted agency staff spend ‘remains low’ and is ‘less than 1% of NHS spend’.

‘The use of temporary staff in an organisation as large and complex as NHS Scotland will always be required to ensure vital service provision during times of planned and unplanned absences,’ a spokesperson said.

‘The majority of these shifts are filled from the NHS Staff Bank, who are NHS staff, on NHS contracts at NHS rates of pay.’

Nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland were at 6,200 at the end of March, according to the latest data.

Level of agency staff spend ‘simply not sustainable’, says RCN

RCN Scotland interim director Colin Poolman warned workforce shortages across Scotland’s health and social care services are now at ‘critical levels, impacting on patient safety and the well-being of staff’.

‘It is no surprise that health boards are having to resort to expensive agency nurses to fill the gaps, but the level of spend is simply not sustainable,’ he said.

‘Some investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events and ensure safe patient care, but it is not the solution to the current workforce crisis.’


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