Cost of agency nurses soars for NHS South West

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Media captiontrusts have been paying high rates to agencies to supply temporary staff and recruiting nurses from abroad

Spending on agency nurses in the South West has soared from about £12m to more than £59m in the last four years, it has emerged.

The Royal College of Nursing, which made Freedom of Information requests to 27 NHS trusts, said the NHS was being "crippled" by a shortage of nurses.

The biggest rise was at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, which spent £6.1m in 2014, up from £390,000 in 2010.

The hospital trust said it only used agency nurses "when necessary".

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said there were fewer nurses than in 2010, so NHS organisations have had to look for ways to address the shortfall.

As a result, trusts have been paying high rates to agencies to supply temporary staff and recruiting nurses from abroad.

RCN regional director Jeannett Martin said: "An already overstretched workforce is trying to carry out even more work in even less time, so NHS trusts are trying to plug the gap to ensure patients get the care they need, and it is costing the NHS a huge amount of money.

"It takes three years to train a nurse so we need action now to ensure that the UK has the nurses required to provide patients with the care that they need."

Spending on agency nurses - the biggest rises around the region
2010 2014
Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust £727,000 £1.1m
Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust £784,000 £3.7m
Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust £1m £5.2m
North Bristol NHS Trust £349,000 £3.4m
Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust £73,000 £2.43m
Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust £664,000 £3.7m
Royal United Hospital Bath £352,000 £3.4m
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust £390,000 £6.1m
University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust £843,000 £5m
Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust £1.6m £2.1m
Devon Partnership NHS Trust £870,000 £2.3m
Poole Hospital NHS Foundation Trust £471,000 £3m
Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust £544,000 £2.1m

The Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital's trust said in its last board report in March it was facing an overspend on staff pay of £3.8m, which was partly due to additional agency staff required to cover vacancies.

Deputy chief nurse Tracey Reeves said: "Our priority is providing safe, high quality care for our patients, and we are working hard to ensure that safe staffing levels are maintained.

"A sustained increase in patient demand year on year has increased the need for nursing staff and we have invested over £3.5m over the last two years to increase our nursing establishment."

The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust blamed a high volume of patients and "recruitment challenges being experienced across the NHS".

The Department of Health declined to comment.

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