Sheffield hospitals spend more than £28m on agency staff in 17 months

Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.
Northern General Hospital, Sheffield.
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Hospitals in Sheffield spent more than £28 million on agency staff in just over a year, new figures have revealed.

The cost is equivalent to the average annual salaries of more than 1,000 nurses.

The figures – revealed as part of The Star’s Your Right to Know campaign – show £28.3m was paid out by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to more than 70 agencies between January 2013 and May 2014.

Now trade union Unison is calling for a review of the spending, which showed more than £1m per month is being spent on agency staff.

It says it may be cheaper to employ workers full-time and cut fees to firms providing temporary staff.

However, hospital bosses say they have ‘little choice’ but to use temporary staff, due to a shortage of specialists and a ‘much higher than expected increase in demand’ for services.

Mark Gwilliam, trust human resources director, said: “We do everything possible to limit the use of non-permanent staff and recognise £28m is a large sum.

“However it represents just three per cent of our total pay costs, which were almost £600m this year for the 16,000 staff we employ.

“As one of the largest specialist NHS trusts in the UK, we inevitably need a considerable number of staff in specialist roles that at times are in short supply to recruit. While we may have little choice to temporarily fill these posts with non-permanent staff, we are continually looking to recruit permanent staff wherever possible.

“Indeed, we have recently recruited 130 nurses and 70 clinical support workers to permanent posts.

“Despite our success in attracting staff, we inevitably have periods of sickness, maternity and other instances which need short-term cover.

“Additionally, during the last year we have seen a much higher than expected increase in demand and there has been rapid expansion in some of our service areas and obviously it takes a little time to recruit additional staff.

“Regardless of these challenges, our focus remains on keeping costs low.”

Warnings about agency spending have been made in recent trust board meetings.

A finance report in January said agency costs were ‘significantly higher’ than in the same period in 2013/14.

In February, a similar report said agency costs were a ‘major factor’ in overspending on pay in departments including medical, dental, administrative and clerical.

The highest spending was £2.5m in March 2014, with the lowest in September 2013 when £1.1m was spent.

Unison’s Charlie Carruth said: “The agencies know they are going to get regular work with some staff doing a set number of hours each week. You might as well cut out the agency fees and actually employ them. There needs to be a review about doing things a different way.”

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