Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust spends £20m on agency staff in nine months as Royal College of Nursing blames 'short-sighted' government
A hospitals trust has spent nearly £20m on agency staff in the space of nine months.
The Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust, which runs Pinderfields, Pontefract and Dewsbury Hospitals, spent the cash to plug the gaps in its permanent workforce between April 2020 and January 2021.
Covid-related staff absence accounted for around a quarter of the overall figure.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said it was unsurprised by the figure and blamed the government's "short-sighted" cuts to funding for nurse training over several years.
The trust said the figure was down on previous years, having spent more than £30m on agency workers in the 2017/18 financial year.
But the RCN warned that hospitals would have to keep relying on temporary workers until the government addressed the permanent staff shortage within the NHS.
Glenn Turp, the union's regional director for Yorkshire and Humber, said: "Trusts are absolutely right to prioritise safe staffing levels and patient safety as Mid Yorkshire have.
"These figures also underline just how much the NHS continues to struggle to find enough staff to provide safe and effective patient care.
"Hospitals have been forced to use expensive agency staff because of short-sighted financially driven cuts by government to nurse training places and funding for nursing students in the past."
Mr Turp said that below inflation pay rises for NHS staff meant recruitment would remain a challenge for the health service.
That view was echoed by a former nurse and chair of the Wakefield health scrutiny committee, Councillor Betty Rhodes, during a debate about NHS pay on Wednesday.
Mr Turp added: "The NHS is under immense pressure now and into the future.
"The government must come up with a long-term solution to tackle the nursing workforce crisis, and recruit and retain nurses.
"Part of the answer must be to show that they do recognise and value the complexity of skill, responsibility and experience demonstrated every day by nursing staff by awarding them with an appropriate pay increase of 12.5 per cent this year."
The government has said that its offer of a one per cent pay rise to nurses is all it can afford in the current economic climate, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in November that the UK's "pipeline of future talent in nursing, medicine and general practice is now at record levels."
The chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire trust, Martin Barkley, said: "The agency spend figure of £19.9m, reported at our recent board meeting relates to the period from April 2020 to January 2021.
"During this time we experienced staff absences on account of the pandemic. These absences were due to a number of reasons, from vulnerable colleagues who have needed to shield to protect their own health, to those who were ill with Covid-19 or who were classed as contacts, and needed to isolate to protect our patients, their own families and each other.
"All these situations created gaps in our workforce which needed to be filled to ensure we could continue to provide safe patient care, and £4.5m of the agency spend was for this reason."
Mr Barkley said that when Covid-related spending was discounted, the trust had halved its bill for agency staff over four years, which he said was "Down to the very hard work of colleagues to recruit and retain excellent staff."
Local Democracy Reporting Service