HOSPITAL chiefs have spent £240,000 on hiring agency nursing staff to care for Hartlepool patients during a three-month period.
The amount of cash North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has spent on agency workers has increased sixth-fold during the last three years.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) show that the Trust, which runs hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton and One Life Hartlepool, spent £237,612 on staff between last July and September.
This was more than double the £110,633 which was spent during the same three-month period in 2013 and significantly higher than £38,794 shelled out in 2012.
But, Trust bosses say the hike in costs was contributed to by hiring staff to care for dementia patients, but they now have a dedicated team in place.
Ann Burrell, the Trust’s director of human resources and education, said: “Our top priority as a trust is to ensure safe levels on our wards in departments and in the community. On wards we often have to employ additional staff to care for patients who need to be continually supervised such as patients affected by dementia or those at risk of falling.
“The information in the report covers quarter July to September, but since that time we have taken on a team of dedicated therapy assistants who can provide this additional level of care so we expect to see our agency costs fall.
“We are fortunate in having a relatively low number of registered nurse vacancies across the trust and we are actively recruiting.
“We believe more nurse training posts are needed and we are asking for more nurse training posts to be made available, though of course new student nurses take three years to complete their studies. In the meantime we have to keep staffing to safe levels in the best interests of our patients and the staff who look after them and this is what we are doing.”
The RCN estimates that there are at least 20,000 nursing vacancies in the UK and likens the agency bills to payday loans.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This report shows the true financial cost of a health service which takes a ‘payday loans’ attitude towards workforce planning, leaving itself at the mercy of agencies because it refused to invest sensibly in the past.
“What it doesn’t show is the cost to patients – over-reliance on agency staff is bad for continuity of care, and that is bad for patients.
“Cutting the supply of nurses was reckless and short-sighted but concerns were batted away in a misguided attempt to save money.
“The NHS is under immense pressure and it is now time for serious workforce investment and sensible, long-term workforce planning. Anything less will be selling future generations severely short.”