NHS agency staff spend rises

Scottish Government hails ‘record number of NHS staff’ while others warn level still insufficient 

Tuesday 4th June 2019

NHS Scotland spent £26.2m on nursing and midwifery agency staff during the last financial year, representing an increase of 10.9% in comparison to 2017-18. Meanwhile, the total spend on bank staff increased by 6.5% to £161.9m.

This is one of the health service workforce statistics published today that is raising concerns. Across the health service, staff numbers rose by 0.6% over the last year to 164,114.

While this signals a seventh consecutive year of annual growth for NHS Scotland, NHS Tayside, NHS Ayrshire & Arran and NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde all reported a workforce decrease since the 31st March 2018.

Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health & Sport, welcomed the “new record high”.

There has been a 7.4% increase in qualified nurses and midwives under this government, and over this parliament we’re creating 2,600 extra nurse and midwifery training places. We’ve also seen the number of consultant staff in post grow by 50%.”

When we publish the integrated health and social care workforce plan, the first in the UK, it will be informed by available data to help ensure that we have the right staff in the right place long into the future,” added the Health Secretary.

The plan will also take into account, as far as it can, the unknown impact that Brexit will have on retaining and recruiting our workforce.”

7.8% of medical and dental consultant posts in Scotland were vacant. While the vacancy rate is slightly higher than the year previous (7.5%), the number of posts vacant for six months or more decreased slightly.

The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh welcomed a recent rise in the number of medical school places but said current staffing levels need to be addressed.

President of the College, Professor Derek Bell, said: “Recruitment and retention of staff is one of the biggest challenges facing our NHS…As the Scottish NHS continues to experience high demand, we must ensure that effective workforce plans and policies are in place, so that high quality patient care is maintained.

“Factors such as rota gaps, early retirement, medical student dropout rates, pension changes and Brexit all impact recruitment and retention in Scotland…

“…We support the increase in medical school places to meet future service requirements. However, current staffing levels need to be addressed. This College, and the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, are keen to support initiatives aimed at recruiting international and European medical staff.” 

Today’s figures show there are 5946 doctors in training across the country, a 0.3% drop from the same point last year.

The Conservatives have suggested a fresh staffing crisis is facing Scotland’s NHS, stating the number of doctors in training “has fallen again and consultant vacancies are up”.

Elsewhere, the health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, said vacancies were “jeopardising care and costing the public purse”.

“The SNP Government has made a hash of NHS staffing and are still delaying and delaying their workforce plans,” he added.

As a result, doctors and nurses are being forced to pick up the slack in under-resourced teams and the taxpayer is having to cover huge bills for agency staff to paper over the SNP’s mistakes.”