HOSPITAL chiefs in South Tyneside shelled out over £48,000 on hiring agency staff to cover for sick workers during a three-month period.
The cash, spent by South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust between last July and September, represents a sixth-fold increase in the same period the previous year.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) show that the Trust, which runs South Tyneside District Hospital in Harton Lane, South Shields, spent £48,890 on agency workers.
This was six times the £7,260 which was spent during the same three-month period in 2013 and more than double the £15,029 which was spent in 2012.
Trust bosses say the spike in overheads was due to an abnormal number of staff absences because of sicknesses and also some vacancies.
Ian Frame, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s executive director, personnel and development, said: “Our locum agency costs are usually low as we have our own internal nurse bank. However, during the second quarter of 2014/15, there were significant absences due to sickness and vacancies in our primary care services, for which we required agency cover, and this explains the comparatively high figure.”
The RCN estimates that there are at least 20,000 nursing vacancies in the UK and has likened the agency costs to ‘payday loans’.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This report shows the true financial cost of a health service which takes a ‘payday loans’ attitude towards workforce planning, leaving itself at the mercy of agencies because it refused to invest sensibly in the past.
“What it doesn’t show is the cost to patients – over-reliance on agency staff is bad for continuity of care, and that is bad for patients.
“Cutting the supply of nurses was reckless and short-sighted but concerns were batted away in a misguided attempt to save money.”
He added: “The NHS is under immense pressure and it is now time for serious workforce investment and sensible, long-term workforce planning. Anything less will be selling future generations severely short.”