NHS Borders is defending its use of temporary medical staff after figures revealed that the cost had almost doubled in three years.
Recently published statistics detail the amount of money spent on the use of locum health staff across Scotland and show that there has been a marked increase in the Borders region.
In 2010-11 £636,526 was spent by NHS Borders on locum staff and this has nearly doubled to over £1.2 million in 2012-13.
Locum staff are used to temporarily fulfil the duties of medical staff who are absent, or if a hospital or practice is short-staffed.
An NHS spokesperson explained: “NHS Borders engages locum doctors to ensure safe and accessible provision of a full range of local health services.
“For some medical specialties in the past two years there have been significant challenges due to maternity leave, sickness absence and vacancies for shortage specialties. We are increasing the number of permanent medical posts to improve local services and avoid the use of temporary locum staff.
“We expect the position to improve in future years with successful recruitment to specialist posts and as a new agency locum contract has been approved by the NHS in Scotland from May 1, 2013 which will provide better value.
“Despite the high cost of agency locum doctors, through careful management of our resources and contingency planning, NHS Borders did achieve financial balance last year.”
Berwickshire MSP John Lamont, places the blame for the increased bill for temporary medical staff, squarely at the door of the SNP Government, arguing that the number of full-time nurses has been slashed by over 2,000 in recent years, with the number of places for student nurses cut by 12% in 2011-12 and a further 10% in 2012-13.
Mr Lamont said: “This huge increase in spending on locum staff reveals the true extent of the under-staffing crisis in our NHS.
“While it is encouraging to see a slight drop in spending on agency nurses, to almost double the amount spent on locum nurses and doctors in just two years is clearly unacceptable.
“It is a damning indictment of the SNP’s mismanagement of our NHS. In the last few years they have slashed the number of nurses in Scotland and the Borders yet the demand for health services remains as high as ever.
“With money being tighter than ever it is shocking that they are willing to allow this sort of spend to occur. When it is cheaper to employ a full time member of staff it makes no sense whatsoever to waste this money on bringing in these temporary staff members.
“Patients in the Borders demand and deserve the best possible treatment. Instead they are being served by an NHS service that is under staffed and it is time for the SNP to take action to stop this spending increasing any further next year.”