Exclusive: Yorkshire hospitals £113m ‘rip-off’ agency staff bill

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YORKSHIRE’S NHS trusts have come under fire for spending more than £113m on “rip-off” agency doctors and nurses - a rise of a third in a year.

Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs hospitals in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury, spent the most in 2014/15 - £26.5m, almost a quarter of the cash spent by the trusts who responded to a Freedom of Information request by The Yorkshire Post.

Despite spending £21m on agency staffing the year before, it only budgeted £7m in agency costs, leading to calls by one local MP for the Trust to “urgently get a grip” on staffing.

In total, the ten trusts that responded spent £113m in 2014/15 - up 32 per cent from £85m in 2013/4. The true spending figure will be much higher, as it does not contain spending by some major trusts including Bradford and Hull and East Yorkshire.

Agency staff reliance ‘puts patients at risk’

Other Trusts busting the budget are Sheffield Children’s Hospital, whose 2014/15 bill of £2.4m was more than four times the budgeted £478,501 - despite spending £1.9m on agency nurses, midwives and doctors the previous year. Barnsley’s £5.4m spend in 2014/15 was more than double the £2.4m budgeted for.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, which spent almost £24m in 2014/15 - up 58 per cent on 2013/14, said it was investing £13.5m in recruitment and had employed a further 350 nurses since April 2014.

Rotherham’s hospital trust spent £9.5m on agency staff last year - a rise of 54 per cent on the previous year; while York spent £17.1m, a rise of 45 per cent. Elsewhere, Doncaster and Bassetlaw spent £13.1m in 2014/15, up 12 per cent; Sheffield Teaching Hospitals spent £8.5m, a rise of 11 per cent; and Airedale’s agency spent rose 38 per cent to £13.1m.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a clampdown on spiralling agency staff bills in June, after revealing it cost the NHS as a whole £3.3bn last year.

The figure - up from £1.8bn three years earlier - was more than the cost of that year’s 22 million A&E admissions combined, and included more than £600m spent on management consultants, as well as clinical staff used to fills gaps on understaffed wards.

The new rules include: setting a maximum hourly rate for doctors and nurses; capping spending for NHS trusts in financial difficulty; and banning the use of agencies that are not on the approved frameworks.

A report by Lord Carter earlier this year showed a 29 per cent increase in the number of nursing staff leaving the NHS.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Expensive staffing agencies are quite simply ripping off the NHS. It’s outrageous that taxpayers are being taken for a ride which is why we are supporting the NHS by clamping down on rip off staffing agencies, to spend every penny possible on patient care.”

Labour’s Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff, whose constituency includes Mid Yorkshire’s Dewsbury Hospital, is a member of the Health Select Committee and this week raised the issue with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

She said: “The increase in spending across Yorkshire is quite alarming, and must be addressed, as there are associated risks in patients safety and continuity of care. Agency staff come into work, are given a very quick briefing and are largely expected to just get on with it.”

Ms Sherriff said she was “very concerned” about Mid Yorkshire, and that is was clear that workplace management was not working. “The Trust needs to get a grip on this urgently,” she said.

Gary Boothby, deputy director of finance at Mid Yorkshire said it used agencies to ensure it had the correct staff levels to provide good patient care amid a “competitive” labour market.