Blackpool’s hospital trust’s £15m bill for temporary staff

Cat Smith MP
Cat Smith MP
  • Hospital chiefs revealed a £15m bill on agency staff in a single year
  • The figure for 2013/14 is a jump of more than £3m on the previous 12 months
  • Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said he was “shocked” by the figures
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More needs to be done to rein in spending on temporary workers after hospital chiefs revealed a £15m bill on agency staff in a single year, community leaders said today.

The figure for 2013/14 is a jump of more than £3m on the previous 12 months.

Agency staffing costs have gone up and up and up under the Coalition Government. They need to bring it under control and so far we’re not seeing this

Cat Smith

And it comes just days after Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, blasted agencies for “ripping off” the NHS and said hospitals were “over-spending” on temporary staff.

The official Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust figures show £15.3m was spent on agency and contract staff in 2013/14. That compares to £12m for the year ending March 2013.

Hospital bosses today insisted the trust, which posted a loss of £12.4m in accounts for 2013/14, was working hard to recruit permanent staff, but “national shortages of doctors and nurses” meant the hospital had to look at temporary staffing.

Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said he was “shocked” by the figures

He added: “The NHS does have to get a grip on this spending and look more closely at encouraging staff to take up full-time contracts. It’s not just about pay but about conditions and the stress and pressure that staff fear they may be subjected to.

“The Trust is clearly putting effort in to improving the environment which should give potential employees confidence in taking on full-time roles.

“Agency staff are perhaps more expensive than they need to be but there’s always more the Trust can do to streamline processes and boost recruitment and make it a good place to work.”

But Cat Smith, Labour MP for Fleetwood and Lancaster, said the “onus” should now be on the Government to reduce pressures on the NHS to ensure more full time staff stay.

She said changes and cuts to the NHS brought in by the Government have seen full-time staff leave – only for agency staff to be taken on to fill the gaps.

She said: “Agency staffing costs have gone up and up and up under the Coalition Government. They need to bring it under control and so far we’re not seeing this.

“We’d like to see NHS staff on contracts with stability for the individual and cheaper for the NHS, so it’s win-win all round. The way agencies run they will try to create profits so the onus is on the Government to not force Trusts into using agencies.

“A lot of people will be shocked by these figures. As someone who has followed this I’m sadly not surprised, but I am disappointed.”

The figures come just days after NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens hit out at the amount hospitals were spending on temporary staff.

He pledged on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the NHS would be taking action against staffing agencies.

He said: “What we’ve got to do is convert that (agency)spending into good, paying permanent jobs.”

Mr Stevens drew attention to a recent regulator’s report, which showed that NHS foundation trusts in England spent £1.8bn in 2014 on agency and contract staff - more than twice the planned amount.

He said the rise was partly due to hospitals putting more nurses on wards, following the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal.

Though he admitted it was “very hard” for individual hospitals to take action against agencies, he said “collectively the NHS can take action here and we will be doing that”.

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said Mr Stevens’ assessment of he problem was “spot on”, arguing that agencies are currently 
charging “top dollar”.

He said: “The reality is that because of very poor workforce planning and because of cuts, particularly in the number of new student nurses taken on, the NHS is now playing catch-up and, to fill that vacuum, agencies have stepped in.”

The official numbers for the Blackpool Trusts show that the figures have increased from £4.1m in 2011 to £6.6m in 2012 and then £12m in 2013 and £15.3m in 2014.

However, the large jump between 2012 and 2013 came after the trust took on more work and absorbed extra costs as a result.

Nicky Ingham, director of workforce and organisational development said: “Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is committed to recruiting staff on a permanent basis and is undertaking a lot of activity in this area including overseas recruitment.

“However, there are national shortages of nurses and doctors in particular specialities and it is an extremely competitive environment to recruit in.

“We are looking proactively at ways to reduce usage of temporary staff while maintaining our commitment to safe staffing levels throughout the organisation, which requires us to utilise agency staff where necessary.”

The £15.3m expenditure on temporary staff in 2013/14 came in the same year official accounts showed the trust had a £12.4m deficit.

That came after the Trust posted surpluses of £3.2m in 2012/13 and £3.3m in 2011/12 It suffered a widely-reported loss of £23.1m in 2010/11.