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Agency and bank nurse spending rises steeply as vacancies surge

Lack of continuity in nursing teams is bad for morale and patient care, says union as government points to ‘long-term investment’ in nurse education
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, a region where agency spending rose sharply

Lack of continuity in nursing teams is bad for morale and patient care, says union as government points to ‘long-term investment’ in nurse education

Spending on agency and bank nursing staff in Scotland increased to £321 million in the past year as nursing vacancies continue to rise.

The health service spent £232 million on nursing and midwifery bank staff between March 2021 and 2022 – 18% more than in the previous year. And spending on agency staff leapt by 128% to £89 million.

RCN Scotland interim director Colin Poolman said: ‘It is no surprise

Lack of continuity in nursing teams is bad for morale and patient care, says union as government points to ‘long-term investment’ in nurse education

Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, a region where agency spending rose sharply
Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, a region where agency and bank spending rose more than 90% in a year Picture: Alamy

Spending on agency and bank nursing staff in Scotland increased to £321 million in the past year as nursing vacancies continue to rise.

The health service spent £232 million on nursing and midwifery bank staff between March 2021 and 2022 – 18% more than in the previous year. And spending on agency staff leapt by 128% to £89 million.

RCN Scotland interim director Colin Poolman said: ‘It is no surprise that health boards are having to resort to bank and agency nurses to fill the gaps. Investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events and ensure safe patient care but health boards cannot continue to ratchet up spending on agency nurses. It is not sustainable and the lack of continuity for nursing teams can affect quality of care and staff morale.’

Scotland’s largest health board NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spent £78.5 million on bank staff and £19.1 million on agency staff, rising 92.3% in a year. NHS Western Isles had the largest annual increase in spending on bank staff, of 55.7%.

Rise in nursing vacancies in Scotland’s NHS ratchets up pressure on staff

The number of nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland increased by 38% from 4,494.4 whole-time-equivalent to 6,209.

RCN Scotland said 1,550 posts had been unfilled for three months or longer, with vacancies rising since 2020.

‘These statistics make very difficult reading for nursing staff who have more than proved their worth in the past two years,’ Mr Poolman said.

‘They deserve more than to turn up shift after shift and be expected to deal with significantly increased demand with fewer and fewer nursing staff.’

‘Nursing and midwifery numbers at record high’

A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: ‘Use of bank and agency staff was vital during the height of the pandemic, the most pressured time our NHS has ever seen. Most temporary staffing comes from the NHS staff bank – which has NHS staff on NHS contracts.

‘Nursing and midwifery staff numbers are at record high levels across the country, up by 14.8%. We have continued our long-term investment in nursing and midwifery education, with record numbers of funded places this academic year.’


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