NHS ‘squander billions on agency staff’ instead of nurse training
RCN analysis finds NHS in England spent more than £3 billion over three years, while the government ‘provides miserly funding for fair pay and nurse education’
The NHS spent more than £3 billion on agency staff over three years, which nursing leaders have said could have been used to train more than 86,000 new nurses.
Freedom of Information requests by the RCN revealed hospital trusts in England spent £3.2 billion on agency nurses between 2020 and 2022 to plug gaps in nursing rotas and keep wards open. A total of 182 trusts out of 202 provided data.
Agency spend could have covered nurse salaries and training
The RCN’s analysis of the figures found the average agency spend every year – just over £1 billion – could have covered the salaries of 30,956 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses at the top of a band 5 salary (£34,581), while the total £3.2 billion spend could have helped train more than 86,000 new nurses.
London Economics research for the college estimates it costs £37,287 to train one nurse.
Agency spend is plugging chronic staff shortages, says RCN
Costs were highest in London, where hospitals spent £630 million on staff working temporary shifts, followed by the south east where they paid out £582 million.
The analysis also showed agency costs spiralled by 63% over the three years, rising from £800 million in 2020 to £1.3 billion in 2022. The RCN warned that trusts’ yearly spend on agency staff was increasing, with the recruitment crisis forcing them to ‘squander’ vast sums to plug chronic staff shortages.
There were more than 42,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS in England as of September, latest data show.
Using agency staff is ‘yet another false economy’ in NHS spending
RCN chief nurse Nicola Ranger said: ‘Ministers have got their priorities wrong – forcing trusts to squander billions on agency staff while they provide miserly funding for fair pay and nurse education.
‘With cuts to nurse education and maintaining unfair pay levels, ministers are choosing to spend the money on much higher private agency bills instead; this is yet another false economy when it comes to NHS spending.
‘This should act as a wake-up call. Not acting now will mean even more patients on waiting lists and the crisis in the nursing workforce deepening further.’
Government says pandemic was big factor in agency spend
The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) said pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic when staff sickness rates were ‘exceptionally high’ affected the statistics, and added that its policy is to reduce agency staff use and prioritise in-house staff banks.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘While temporary staffing allows the NHS to meet fluctuations in demand, we are controlling spending by capping hourly pay and prioritising NHS staff when shifts need filling.’
The NHS Long Term Workforce Plan outlined a proposal to ban NHS staff from agency-working and only allowing their additional shifts to be undertaken through local banks.
Spending on agency staff by region in England between 2020 and 2022
|Yorkshire and the Humber
Source: Freedom of Information requests by the RCN
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