NHS Borders spends more on agency staff

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NHS Borders has defended its spending on agency nurses, some of whom are costing the health board up to £93 an hour.

Scottish Conservatives made a freedom of information request to find out how much money is being spent on recruiting agency medical staff, and they describe their findings as a “slap in the face” for staff nurses.

A shift is defined as a working day of between eight and 14 hours, which means the total payment for the shift would have been between £747 and £1,308.

The news comes after it was revealed that NHS Borders is spending twice as much as the previous year on external agency staff.

Scottish Conservative MSPs John Lamont and Rachael Hamilton described the figures as an astonishing waste of taxpayers’ money.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mr Lamont said: “It is staggering that NHS Borders, which is struggling to balance its books this year, is forking out over £90 an hour for agency nurses.

“This is a slap in the face for hard-working staff nurses who can only dream of such remuneration.”

Responding to that criticism, NHS Borders said: “Patient safety is a priority. Staff levels are reviewed daily, and in some instances, the final decision is to fill shifts with agency staff in order to provide a safe service.

“To illustrate, we needed the equivalent of 12 extra nurses over the course of a year. Rates are high for agency cover, especially if it is a bank holiday, a weekend or overnight.”

Mr Lamont added: “Agency should only be as last resort, and there is absolutely no reason why health boards should be paying agencies this kind of money.

Ms Hamilton, a list MSP for southern Scotland, added: “Clearly, there is a serious issue when agency staff nurses are receiving such disproportionate salaries compared to working staff nurses.

“NHS Borders has little choice however when the Scottish Government is failing to train enough nurses.

“And it seems that the situation is only getting worse, with NHS Borders spending twice as much on external agency staff as it did last year.”

A previous request in 2015 to find out how much the most expensive agency staff had cost NHS Borders drew a blank, the response being: “NHS Borders is unable to provide details of the most expensive member of staff.

“The cost of carrying out this work would exceed the limit set in the fees regulations of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.”