Money spent by the NHS hiring agency staff to cover shifts soared by 60% over the past two years to almost £1.3 billion, according to figures uncovered by the Conservatives.
NHS hospitals paid hourly rates as high as £400 for a manager, £375 for a doctor and £146 for a nurse – the equivalent in some cases of 10 or more times the average staff pay for the same jobs.
The £1.254 billion spent on agency staff in 2008/09 is almost half a billion more than the £786 million bill run-up in 2006/07, when then Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said it was “common sense” to cut back on agency workers.
Conservatives said that the sums amounted to twice the annual budget for cancer drugs and almost as much as the NHS spends on maternity services.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said it was “unforgivable” that an estimated £300 million of NHS money ended up in the pockets of the employment agencies who take a slice of the cash.
Figures released to the Tories under Freedom of Information legislation showed that Yeovil District Hospitals Trust paid £146 an hour for an agency nurse – equivalent to an annual salary of £258,000.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn NHS Trust paid £375 an hour for an agency doctor – equivalent to an annual salary of £660,000 – and the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust in north London paid £400 an hour for an information management and technology officer – equivalent to an annual salary of £705,000.
Many of the agency staff were paid at an hourly rate higher than the NHS chief executive, whose salary in 2008/09 was £225,000.
Around one-third (34%) of spending on agency staff is on managers, administrators and clerical staff – up 324% in two years – while a fifth (22%) is on nurses.
Mr Lansley said: “This is a hugely wasteful way to run the NHS. Only under a Labour Government could an efficiency drive actually result in rising spending on temporary and agency staff. It is unforgivable that more than £300 million of taxpayers’ money intended for the NHS is instead going to employment agencies.”