EMBATTLED hospital trusts in Leeds and Wakefield spent almost £50m on agency doctors and nurses last year, as they struggled to fill swathing gaps in staffing.
One frustrated local MP said our hospitals are “struggling to meet demands” while the Government made it increasingly difficult for trusts to recruit - and the NHS regulator said paying “over the odds” to agency staff is both “unaffordable” and “unfair” on permanent staff.
A YEP investigation has revealed the agency staffing bill at Leeds Teaching Hospitals and Mid Yorkshire, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract, rocketed 55 per cent in two years, from £30.6m in 2013/14 to 2015/16, to £47.5m.
Figures obtained from 13 of Yorkshire’s hospital trusts show they spent a combined £171m on agency doctors and nurses in 2015/16 - up from £12.8m in 2014/15 and up more than 50 per cent on 2013/14’s £11.8m.
Mid Yorkshire, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract, spent £24.8m on agency doctors and nurses last year, up from £15.6m two years earlier.
As revealed in the YEP last month, the trust also breached the agency staff spending cap more than any other trust in Yorkshire from November to May- 23,540 times.
Labour’s MP for Dewsbury and Mirfield Paula Sherriff, who sits on the Health Select Committee, has previously asked for the intervention of health secretary Jeremy Hunt at Mid Yorkshire.
“The fact that the agency spend as a whole, both in West Yorkshire and across the rest of the country, is at such a high level is indicative that all of our hospitals are struggling to meet current demands and yet the government is still failing to deal with this growing problem,” Ms Sherriff said.
“This will only be further exacerbated by the Government’s prevarication on whether EU nationals can remain in the UK following the Brexit decision and the Government decision to end bursaries for nursing and other healthcare qualifications.
“Both of these factors will make it difficult for hospitals to recruit permanent, qualified staff.”
David Melia, director of nursing and quality at Mid Yorkshire, acknowledged that there “is still a way to go” to tackle the issue, but said the trust is looking at ways to reduce its “overall reliance” on agency workers.
“There’s no doubt that these additional staff members are a valuable resource to the NHS but we need to do all we can to attract more permanent clinical staff into the organisation,” he added.
Leeds Teaching Hospitals was the only Yorkshire trust to report a nominal drop in spending from 2014/15 to 2015/16 - a drop of 4.3 per cent from £23.7m to £22.7m. However, last year’s expenditure was 134 per cent more than the budgeted £9.7m.
Chief nurse and deputy chief executive Suzanne Hinchliffe said it committed £13.5m to increase the number of nurses working on wards in April 2014.
Furthermore, despite a shortage of candidates it had recruited an extra 48 band 5 nurses, midwives and theatre practitioners into permanent posts since April 2016, with another 411 in the pipeline.
The Royal College of Nursing said the “overreliance” on short-term solutions is “unsustainable” and bad for patient care”.
Operational manager in Yorkshire and the Humber, Karl Norwood said hospitals are being forced to use expensive agencies due to “short-sighted” cuts to nurse training.
He added: “These figures underline just how much the NHS is struggling to find enough staff to provide safe patient care. A combination of workforce cuts, a squeeze on nurse training places, and years of pay restraint have made both recruitment and retention difficult for Trusts.”
Regulator NHS Improvement said measures to drive down the cost of agency staffing were having a “positive impact” and had saved £500m.
A spokesperson said: “Staff who work through agencies or as locums need to realise that the in future, they will be better off seeking substantive employment within the NHS and picking up extra shifts through staffing banks than relying on the high rates paid by agencies.
“While agency staff can be useful for the NHS, their over-use is unaffordable and unfair on other staff not working an agency shift. Through these efforts, staff working for the NHS will know that their agency colleagues are not being paid over the odds for doing the same job.”