Cost of agency staff spirals out of control in Wales

As reported by the BBC, the cost of agency staff to cover vacancies is rising out of control

Agency staff spending in Wales has spiralled out of control in recent years, due to an increasing need to cover NHS vacancies.

According to auditor general, Adrian Crompton, spending on agency staff has risen 171% in the last seven years.

He believes that strong leadership is required to manage the problem and created a fact-only report to lay out the spending issues.

NHS Wales is aiming to cut demand for agency staff in the future, following the discovery that 82% of agency spend in 2018-19 so far has been for covering vacancies.

The main problems causing the reliance on agency staff include skills shortages and absences, and the issue is compounded by the fact agency staff are both more expensive and temporary.

Hywel Dda alone was spending £3.7m per month on agency staff at the end of 2015. The cost was £1.2m a month in 2013-14.

Owain Clarke, BBC Wales health correspondent, said of the news: “The NHS always has – and always will – need to look at using temporary staff.

“They help to plug gaps, and let’s face it, keep patients safe if permanent staff are sick or if a health board is having trouble filling vacancies.

“But there is concern that the NHS has become too reliant on agency workers day-to-day, just to keep the show on the road.

“It’s not a problem unique to Wales; the NHS in all four UK nations spends too much on agency staff.

“And any health body would prefer to spend its cash on permanent staff rather than paying more for people to fill-in.

“But it’s not always easy. Smaller hospitals or surgeries in rural areas might find it more difficult to attract recruits – particularly younger doctors and there are big shortages in some specialist areas.

“Meanwhile some experts argue that this is a symptom of poor workforce planning – with the NHS too preoccupied on fixing problems of today rather than preparing for tomorrow.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson added: “We welcome this report, which will inform future activity in strengthening leadership to steer this work, delivering future efficiencies and developing a single source of consistent data collection.”

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