The payment last August was for a nurse to provide ‘suitable staffing’ over a bank holiday in the intensive care unit at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary costing the equivalent of £110.85 an hour.
An NHS Dumfries and Galloway spokeswoman said: “This is not a regularly occurring situation and the ward in question is normally fully staffed. “However, on this occasion and due to the highly specialised nature of the nursing skills required to provide the appropriate levels of care, we employed an agency nurse to provide shift cover.”
The spokeswoman added: “As a board we are required to recruit staff to fill vacant, permanent posts and we have been successful in doing so. “We also have a range of bank staff available to us, but in some circumstances these staff do not have the level of skills required for some highly specialist roles.”
NHS Dumfries and Galloway say there are now reduced levels of sickness in the ward, and ‘sustainable staffing solutions’ to ensure quality of patient care.
They say the board recruits permanently vacant posts, but that ad hoc basis staff will still be required.
And they say agency staff will be used where it is not possible for bank staff to maintain the relevant skills and where no local alternative is available.
With a national cost of £22 million for agency staff to fill NHS vacancies, sick days and holidays between March 2014 and 2015, Dumfriesshire MSP Elaine Murray said: “The sharp increase in agency staff expenditure in the past year is extremely worrying. “It shows just how stretched our health service is at the moment, and by relying so heavily on agency staff instead of recruiting through the NHS, the problem is only going to get worse.”
With last August’s payment for a shift by a single agency nurse equivalent to an annual payment of £181,000, Dr Murray said: “Despite this monstrous bill for only one shift, NHS Dumfries and Galloway isn’t fairing too badly when you compare it to the agency expenditure of other health boards across the country.
“I think that’s a testimony to the hardworking and dedicated local staff we have working in this region.”