Monday, February 04, 2008

NHS agency staff bill exposed

Evidence released under under the Freedom of Information Act reveals that NHS Trusts across the country are paying agency staff extremely high hourly rates, sometimes to cover shifts, sometimes for administrative work. Examples include:

£100 per hour for an HR manager
£93.50 per hour for an IT consultant
£110 per hour for financial staff
£96.75 per hour for a GP
£121.59 per hour for an agency nurse

This comparies with average hourly pay rates in the NHS for permanent staff of about

£15.66 for a nurse;
£24.14 for a junior doctor; and
£60.31 for a consultant.

In 2005/6, the most recent year for which figures are available, the NHS spent £1.18 billion in total on agency staff.

NHS Trusts here in Cumbria have just finished a consultation about the future of our local hospitals. Senior officials in the trusts have said that the amount of money available to fund local health services is one of the factors affecting very difficult decisions they have to take. Meanwhile local doctors, nurses, and hospital staff have been put under enormous pressure, partly due to staff shortages and vacant posts left unfilled.

To learn that NHS trusts elsewhere in the country have been paying agency staff many times the salary paid to an NHS nurse or junior doctor, and much more even than a hospital consultant, makes you wonder whether the difficulties faced by NHS staff and the community in Cumbria might be less great if money throughout the NHS was spent more efficiently.

I would not suggest that there is no role for agency people in the NHS, or criticise the work they do. But when you read some of these rates, and learn that the NHS has been spending over a billion pounds a year on agency staff, you have to ask whether the balance as between permanent staff and agency staff throughout the health service as a whole is either fair to the staff involved or represents the most effective way to care for patients.


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