Agency nurse spend in Scotland reaches new high

Spending watchdog urges government to publish long-overdue workforce plan

Spending watchdog urges government to publish long-overdue workforce plan to tackle recruitment issues and temporary staffing costs

Spending on agency nurses in Scotland has risen by half since 2014-15
Picture: iStock

Spending on temporary nurse staffing in Scotland has risen to its highest level yet, a report from the country’s public spending watchdog warns.

The amount spent on agency nurses has increased by 53% in the past five years, according to the NHS in Scotland 2019 report from the country’s auditor general. It says:

  • Agency nurses cost the country £26.2 million in 2018-19, up from £17.1 million in 2014-15.
  • Bank nurses cost £161.9 million in 2018-19, up from £138.8 million in 2014-15 – a rise of 17%.

Recruitment initiative cuts agency costs

However, the report notes that some health boards have taken steps to address escalating agency costs.

One, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, sent senior nurses to meet with nursing graduates and tell them about the organisation.

Through this initiative, the board recruited 458 newly qualified nurses and reduced its agency spend by 23% in 2018-19, compared with the previous year.

More broadly, the auditor general report recommends the Scottish government publish a national integrated health and social care workforce plan to tackle this and other issues. Such a plan was promised by government in 2018 but is yet to be published.

Nurses ‘frustrated’ by lack of action on workforce plan

RCN Scotland director Theresa Fyffe said nurses are frustrated by the government’s lethargy in addressing concerns and improving sustainability.

'The anticipated integrated workforce plan may set out the approach... but it is now more than 12 months overdue,’ she said.

A government spokesperson said the plan is expected to be published later this year, but would not commit to a date.

They said workforce planning must take account of many factors, including changing demands on services, adding: 'Workforce supply and demand pressures are compounded by an ageing population and workforce, and the unknown impact of Brexit.’

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