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Friday, 10 August 2018

Action urged on 'untenable' NHS staffing as figures show reliance on agency workers

Written by Sally Wardle

The Government has been urged to address the "untenable" staffing shortage in the NHS, as figures reveal some trusts are relying on agency staff for months on end.

At least 3,700 staff members have worked at least one shift per month at the same trust for more than a year, including 628 doctors and 2,347 nurses, according to data obtained by Labour.

One NHS trust had more than 600 members of staff on year-long agency contracts, while 19 trusts had at least one worker who had been there for more than five years.

Labour called on the Government to "bring forward" a long-term plan for the NHS workforce and end reliance on agency staff.

Freedom of information requests were sent to 237 NHS trusts in England, 129 of which provided data.

An ambulance trust said a staff member had worked at least one agency shift per month for 157 months, while a mental health trust in London said one worker had done so for 126 months.

For nursing, the longest run was 95 months at a trust in the north east of England.

Justin Madders, Labour's shadow health minister, said: "This Government's disastrous inability to plan the NHS workforce has left patients with dangerously understaffed services and left hospitals to rely on expensive agency solutions instead.

"Short-sighted decisions including the pay cap and cuts to training and bursaries have in the long term ended up costing the NHS billions as hospitals pay thousands of pounds a day to staffing agencies for cover.

"This reliance on agency workers is unsettling for hospitals and causing uncertainty for patients who see their continuity of care disrupted."

He added: "The Government must bring forward a sustainable, long-term workforce plan that gets enough permanent staff in place to deliver safe services for patients."

Donna Kinnair, director of nursing policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Reliance on large numbers of agency staff to fill the gaps in the NHS is unsustainable.

"Failure to invest in, value and support our workforce has saved no money at all, but the bill for agency staff, recruitment fees and sickness absence through stress climbs ever higher.

"These figures expose the untenable short staffing crisis across the NHS.

"Short-sighted NHS workforce planning in recent years has left tens of thousands of unfilled nurse jobs, to the severe detriment of patient care.

"Ministers must use the extra £20 billion promised to the NHS to fix this false economy and alleviate the chronic staffing shortages gripping the country."

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "The latest available figures show the NHS spent over £525 million less on agency staff in 2017/18 compared to the previous year.

"We are listening to staff and are encouraging flexible working, boosting training places and have given over a million NHS employees a well-deserved pay rise."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Byrne / PA Wire.