Private nursing bill at Leeds hospitals increases four-fold to more than £7million

An elderly patient is treated after a fall by a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by Anna Gowthorpe.

An elderly patient is treated after a fall by a nurse at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by Anna Gowthorpe.

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Leeds hospitals have more than quadrupled spending on temporary private nursing staff to over £7million in the last year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) claims the dramatic rise in the amount NHS trusts regionally have been spending on temporary agency nurses shows the health service takes a “payday loans attitude” towards workforce planning.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) spent £7.175m from April to December 31 2014 on agency nursing compared to £1.618m for the same period in 2013.

An inspection by watchdog the Care Quality Commission found that Leeds General Infirmary and Leeds St James’s Hospital had “inadequate levels” of nursing and medical staff in some areas last year.

Karl Norwood, operational manager for the RCN in Yorkshire, explained under-pressure trusts are working to ensure safe staffing levels but their efforts are not being supported by national spending. He said: “This has brought us to a situation where trusts are being forced to spend a large portion of their over-stretched budget on temporary nursing staff. Over-reliance on agency staff is also bad for continuity of care, and that is bad for patients.”

LTH has invested £6m in recruiting full-time nurses and has so far filled more than 400 posts in a bid to improve care.

Suzanne Hinchliffe, chief nurse and deputy chief executive at LTH, said rising demand over winter and “significant lead-in time” for new nurses to start work have contributed to high agency spending.

She added: “The trust recognises that hiring agency staff is an expensive option and additional investment in permanent recruitment is continuing.

“Going forward we hope to reduce spending on agency staff during 2015.”