HEALTH bosses in the Lothians have paid out more than £1500 for an agency nurse to work a single shift, new figures reveal.
NHS Lothian handed over £1528 for the shift in 2014/15 - and also paid £1,257 for a shift to be covered in 2015/16 and £1,333 in 2013/14.
The “staggering” costs were revealed in a freedom of information request by the Scottish Tories. NHS Lothian say such agency staff were needed to fill “unexpected and short notice” gaps.
Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP and public health spokesman Miles Briggs said: “People will be staggered that this amount can be paid for a single nursing shift.
“There is clearly a major problem with the system if it allows payments of this magnitude.”
It was unclear what role the agency nurses in question filled or how many hours the shifts were for but most last 12 hours – working out at £127 an hour for the shift last year.
Another freedom of information request in 2013 revealed “the majority of areas use 12-hour shifts” across NHS Lothian while mental health specialists work eight-hour stints.
“Of course there is a place for agency nurses to fill gaps when necessary, but many will feel these agencies are holding the NHS to ransom,” said Mr Briggs.
“It’s also a slap in the face to hardworking staff nurses who could only dream of a remuneration like this.”
The amounts paid are the total costs to NHS Lothian to fill the gaps and include agency fees, rather than the rate a nurse was paid.
In 2014/15, NHS Lothian spent just under £5 million on agency nurses to cover shifts.
Sarah Ballard-Smith NHS Lothian acute services nurse director, said: “Despite having a record number of nurses, we occasionally have to request agency staff to fill gaps that arise unexpectedly and at short notice.
“We have been working to reduce the use of agency staff over the last year and have made significant progress to date.
“By using our own staff bank of registered nurses we endeavour to ensure that wards and departments have the appropriate staffing levels on a daily basis.
“We continue to recruit to nursing vacancies as soon as these arise to maintain staffing levels and continuity of care.”
A nursing body labelled the costs “unsustainable” and warned that staff morale could suffer as a result. “Health boards continue to struggle to fill permanent nursing posts and are having to resort to expensive agency nurses to fill the gaps,” said Norman Provan, associate director at the Royal College of Nursing Scotland.
“While some investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events like sickness absence to ensure safe patient care, health boards cannot continue to ratchet up spending on agency nurses. That is not sustainable.”