'Infuriating': NHS hospitals spending an eye-watering £2,500 for a single nurse's shift, as staffing shortages spiral

11 November 2022, 15:39 | Updated: 15 November 2022, 13:41

The NHS is experiencing an acute staffing shortage
The NHS is experiencing an acute staffing shortage. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Hospitals are paying agency nurses as much as £2,500 for a single shift to fill staff shortages, according to new figures.

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Data collected by the Labour Party found that spending by NHS trusts on temporary staff had ballooned by 20% over the past year, to £3 billion.

The most expensive shift for a temporary nurse in England was £2,549, paid by Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Swindon.

Healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, are...
Healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, are... Picture: Getty

The date showed that nine NHS trusts in London spent a total of £148 million on temporary nurses.

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The true figure, obtained through a freedom of information request, is probably much higher, because only a third of trusts in the capital responded.

One London trust, which the party did not name, spent £1,438 for a single shift by an agency nurse.

A nurse prepares a dose of a Covid-19 booster vaccine this year
A nurse prepares a dose of a Covid-19 booster vaccine this year. Picture: Getty

The NHS is massively understaffed, with 47,000 unfilled nursing vacancies across the entire service. That means trusts have to find temporary staff to plug the gaps - and the higher the demand for agency workers, the more they can charge.

More than 7,200 nurses left the NHS in the year to June 2022 - an increase of 24% on the year before - according to an analysis by the Evening Standard.

Saffron Cordery, interim chief executive of NHS Providers which represent trusts in England, said: "Trust leaders consistently raise concerns about sky-high agency costs.

"They're already facing enormous financial pressures with the impact of inflation and energy costs, and the government's failure to fully fund staff pay awards.

"They are doing all they can to minimise agency spend. But safety must always come first.

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Labour said the spending on agency staff was "infuriating".

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "Taxpayers are picking up the bill for the Conservatives' failure to train enough doctors and nurses."

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A spokesperson for the government said: “We have a clear policy to reduce agency spend through capping the hourly pay of agency and temporary staff, ensuring they are only hired through approved NHS agreements to ensure value for money and prioritising NHS staff rather than external agency staff where extra shifts need filling.

“These measures have seen agency spend fall by a third overall between 2016 and 2021.

“We have also commissioned the NHS to develop a long-term workforce plan to help recruit and support NHS staff and we have given over one million NHS workers a pay rise of at least £1,400 this year.”

It comes as hundreds of NHS nurses voted to strike on Thursday, the first industrial action by members of the Royal College of Nurses in 106 years.

The strike, which is set to take place before the end of the year, is over a pay dispute.