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NHS spends almost £1.5bn on temporary nursing staff to plug gap

The NHS spends at least £1.46bn on temporary nursing staff, it has been revealed.

A Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Open University for its report, ‘Tackling the nursing shortage’, revealed that many trusts have been forced to fill staffing shortages through expensive overtime or temporary arrangements, paying for an additional 79 million hours of registered nurses’ time in the last 12 months.

Of the 241 trusts that were contacted, 141 responded and they collectively spent a minimum of £1.46bn in the past year. If this data is extrapolated to cover all trusts, the cost could be as high as £2.4bn.

Temporary nursing staff are very expensive and the report argues that if this £1.46bn were to be reinvested, the NHS could secure the services of 66,000 newly qualified registered nurses - far above February’s vacancy rate of 38,000.

If these existing gaps were permanently filled, the NHS could save as much as £560m a year, the Open University found.

However, the demand for nurses is outpacing the supply, with the number of new nursing roles created between 2012 and 2015 increased by 8.1%, while the number of new registered nurse only increased by 3.2%.

As part of the research, the Open University commissioned market research among registered nurses and health care support workers from the public and private sectors.

Over three quarters of registered nurses believe that the nursing shortage will worsen, with 61% expecting even more reliance on temporary workers.

Almost half of those questioned said that the nursing shortage in their own areas has worsened since the Brexit referendum, and 37% believe that the number of international nurse applications will continue to fall, despite 40% believing that attracting international nurses is crucial to plugging the gap.

Jan Draper, professor of nursing at the Open University, said: “Relying on temporary nurses to plug gaps is just sticking a plaster over the problem, and costs considerably more than if vacancies were filled permanently.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said that the figures exposed the “utter false economy in current NHS staffing”.

She added: “Short-sightedness in recent years has left tens of thousands of unfilled nurse jobs, to the severe detriment of patient care.

“Workforce planning has been ineffective and dictated by the state of finances, not the needs of patients.

“It is further proof that cost-cutting plans saved no money at all and, instead, increased agency costs, recruitment fees and the sickness absence bill through rising stress.

“Ministers should look at these figures and demonstrate they have the political will to fix the shortages.”

The findings come at the same time as an RCN report that found staff shortages are affecting patient care and the mental and physical health of staff, and a poll revealed that three quarters of the public in England thought that there are not enough nurses to deliver safe care in the NHS.


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