Health Board spent £20.6 million on bank and agency nurses in the past year
Rhiannon James, local democracy reporter
Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has spent £20.6 million on bank and agency nurses in the past year, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed.
The health board said the spend on temporary staff was due to staff shortages across health and social care.
The FOI request was submitted by Independent councillor Kevin Etheridge, who described the findings as “shocking”.
Cllr Etheridge, who represents Blackwood, said: “Going into winter this is very worrying and I think the Welsh Government ought to step in, we can’t leave this to the health board.”
The FOI revealed that the health board has not received any funding from the Welsh Government to cover the cost of bank and agency nurses specifically, but “some” Covid-19 funding has been used to cover it.
The councillor has written to the Minister for health, MS Eluned Morgan, to request additional funding for the health board. Cllr Etheridge said: “If this is happening in the ABUHB area, it must be happening elsewhere at other health boards in Wales.”
The Welsh Government has said it is investing “record levels” of money into training and professional education of health care workers.
A spokesperson for ABUHB said: “Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been responding to unprecedented demand for patient care, as well as an increased number of patients with complex needs requiring more specialist treatment.
“The well-publicised staff shortages across health and social care throughout the UK, the additional demand for care, and staff sickness have resulted in staffing gaps that require regular use of bank and agency nursing staff.
“It’s important to note that many of our bank workforce are either permanent staff members working additional shifts, or are those who have worked regular shifts with us for many years but prefer to work flexibly via a bank arrangement. This is consistent with other NHS organisations and our regular bank workers form a fundamental part of our substantive workforce, which involves a substantially smaller cost to us than agency staff.
“We continue to rapidly recruit permanent staff, and are investing in record levels of training and professional education, with more training places than ever before.”
Of the health board’s 2,397 staff, 2,088 are assigned to banks.
Last week the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) warned that the levels of dependency on agency staff in the NHS in Wales could lead to a situation where ‘most or all’ nursing care could be outsourced to private companies, and that the service risks moving to a situation in which it no longer employs staff to care for patients directly.
RCN Wales said the NHS was now “displaying a dangerous and growing reliance on agency nursing over its own workforce”.
The report, which was published on Friday (9 December), stated “If this trend continues, Wales will move to a situation where NHS Wales no longer directly employs staff to provide patient care and instead moves to a model in which most or all nursing care is outsourced to private companies.
“This is not a shift that should take place without a conscious government policy decision,”.
A statement from the Welsh Government says: “The NHS in Wales offers opportunities for nurses who wish to work more flexibly to sign up to work for the NHS organisations Banks where they benefit from national pay terms and conditions and can opt to work flexibly at times that suit them and in the familiar setting where they are more comfortable.
“There are more staff working in NHS Wales than ever before, and this year we are investing record levels in training and professional education, £262 million, including more training places than ever before.
“The workforce strategy, published by Health Education and Improvement Wales and Social Care Wales, sets out a long term vision for the health and social care workforce, and we are developing a shorter term plan to deal with current pressures.”
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Oh if only we could offer long term contracts to qualified medical staff from overseas, who were happy to fill the positions that locals didn’t want or were not clever enough to do. But Brexit.