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NHS hospitals are over-spending on agency staff

Hospitals are spending record amounts on part-time agency staff in a bid to improve patient safety amid sharply rising demand.

Latest figures show NHS hospitals spent £2.5bn on agency staff, with one hundred hospitals and other NHS employers within the Foundation Trust sector spending £1.3bn on agency and contract staff in 2013-14.

Figures obtained by the senior Labour MP Frank Field said spending on part-time staff in the standard NHS trust sector was at a staggering £1.2bn.

The vast overspend has been driven by growing demand on hospitals and a rapid attempt by hospital bosses to take on more nursing staff to improve patient safety.

Agencies also charge significantly more per shirt for their staff than the equivalent cost of a full-time NHS nurse of doctor, and health bosses have been criticised by regulators for failing to plan their workforce needs more efficiently.

Mr Field, who has called for a radical overhaul of the way England pays for the NHS, backed up by an increase in National Insurance contributions, said the figures showed budget control in the health service was “collapsing”.

He said, “Had they planned properly, managers could have saved hundreds of millions of pounds for the health service, and ensured more monies ended up in workers’ pockets rather than in agency fees.”

The overspend came to light as the latest hospital figures revealed deteriorating performance, both A&E and in discharging patients who no longer require hospital care – raising fears of a winter hospital crisis.

The government is endorsing several recruitment drives to eliminate the number of agencies used to hire hospital workers.

A spokesperson for Monitor has said, “Hospitals should act to reduce their dependency on agency staff by improving their planning and gaining greater control over their staffing costs.” 

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