THE trust that runs Basingstoke, Andover and Winchester hospitals has spent millions on temporary agency staff in the last three years, figures reveal.

Figures obtained by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) show that Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (HHFT) spent more than £18.5m on agency nursing staff between 2020 and 2022.

The RCN, which provided the figures following a Freedom of Information request to hospital trusts across the country, said the figures show that the NHS in the South East is being ‘propped up by temporary agency nursing staff costing the NHS millions of pounds every year while waiting lists continue to hit record levels’.

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The findings reveal that NHS trusts across the South East spent £583,392,919 on agency nursing staff over three years between 2020 to 2022 to cover gaps in rotas and keep wards open. Across England this figure is £3.2billion.

Analysis from the RCN shows that spending on temporary nursing staff spiralled in the South East over three years, with costs increasing from £137,844,189 in 2020 to £252,383,477 in 2022.

However, at HHFT spend on agency nurses was reduced during this timeframe.

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The trust spent £9,846,672 on agency registered nurses between January and December 2020, reducing to £5,713,975 in 2021 and £2,952,740 in 2022.

The RCN says services are running under the strain of more than 40,000 vacant nursing posts, and that the money spent on temporary staff across three years would have paid the salaries of 5,614 band five nurses in the South East for a year.

It says trusts were forced into spending on temporary staff amid a long-term workforce crisis leaving more than 40,000 empty nursing posts across the NHS in England.

Ellen McNicholas, RCN regional director for South East England, said: “These figures are a stark reminder that trusts cannot keep plugging gaps in staffing in this way, it’s financially untenable. At the moment they have no choice but to go cap in hand to agencies as they look to prop up their workforce.

“What is needed is a sustainable workforce plan and to have nursing seen as the amazing role that it is. With better pay, nursing will be considered as a more viable option for those hoping to enter the profession as well as retaining those with experience.

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“While the option for some people to work in agency roles is important, the NHS should not become over-reliant on calling in agency staff to run essential services. When new staff come onto a ward it adds to issues with continuity of care. New members of the team often have to start from scratch in understanding the needs of their patients. It can also add to handover times meaning many staff are forced into working extra hours.

“These figures provide yet more evidence to demonstrate years of ineffective government workforce planning is costing millions. Paying for agency overheads is expensive and puts pressure on finite budgets for services and patient care. While money pours out of the NHS to agencies the permanent gaps in rotas remain, meaning staff are left to care for too many patients and care is put at risk.”

A spokesperson for HHFT said: “While we value and appreciate the work of our agency staff, reducing expenditure is always good news. At Hampshire Hospitals, agency nurses work in very specialist areas which would be difficult to staff through bank resource, these include mental health nurses, critical care nurses, and paediatric nurses.”