Statistics published by the Scottish Government have revealed that for the year ending March 2021, NHS Scotland spent £236m on agency and bank nurses to plug staffing gaps. This represented a 11.3 per cent increase on the previous year and a rise of some 22.4 per cent for agency staff alone.
A recent study from the Royal College of Nursing has shown that since 2011-12, bank nursing has increased by 58.9 per cent, rising to 5,018.9 whole time equivalents (WTE) in 2020-21. The report, published last month, urged the Scottish Government to take “urgent action” to combat record-high levels of staff vacancies, warning that there are “simply not enough nursing staff to provide the care our population needs”.
The bill for agency and bank staff comes as over 6,600 WTE nursing and midwifery vacancies are reported across Scotland’s NHS.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “The facts are clear for all to see – the SNP’s complete failure to support our nursing workforce has led to yawning chasms in staffing levels and an eye watering bill on the public purse. Make no mistake, this is the price of SNP failure.
“Scotland’s heroic nursing workforce go above and beyond for patients everyday, but they are being failed by a government unwilling to act.”
She added: “If we are to get to grips with this crisis in nurse staffing, we need a proper plan to get the skilled nursing staff we need – including incentivising agency and bank nurses into the ranks of our NHS.
“Failure to act now will only lead to a soaring cost to the taxpayer and even more pressure on our overworked nursing staff. The time for action is long overdue.”
The RCN has urged the Scottish Government to implement recommendations for safe staffing levels voted through parliament in 2019.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Spend on agency nursing in Scotland represents less than one per cent of the overall staffing budget with the majority of temporary staffing coming from the NHS Staff Bank – which has NHS staff on NHS contracts.
“We are fully aware of the difficult circumstances that boards and front-line staff are working in, which is why we have worked hard to ensure that our NHS maintains the increased numbers of staff we’ve seen over the past 10 consecutive years."
She added: “Nursing and midwifery staff numbers are at record high levels across the country - up by 14.5 per cent. We have also continued our long term investment in nursing and midwifery education, with record numbers of funded places this academic year. Student nurses and midwives entering funded degree programmes will increase for the tenth consecutive year in 2022-23, meaning student places have doubled in the last decade.
“We have also committed over £1 billion to our NHS Recovery Plan, and £300 million which was announced last winter to support additional recruitment, which is already paying off.”