Warning over reliance on foreign recruits as NHS temporary staff costs soar

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Hospitals across Yorkshire are facing soaring costs for temporary doctors and nurses as health chiefs battle to plug shortages of key staff.

Latest figures reveal costs in the region’s hospitals for locum doctors and bank and agency nurses are nearly 25 per cent up on 2013 amid warnings they are playing a key part in the deepening NHS financial crisis.

Costs of bank and agency nursing at Rotherham’s hospital have nearly doubled since April to £3.4m compared to the same period last year and are now six times the level expected.

At hospitals in Leeds, bills for temporary nurses are up 87 per cent to £9.4m, while one 24-hour shift for a specialist consultant cost taxpayers £2,600.

Spending on agency staff at York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is said to be running at an “unaffordable premium level” predicted to hit £9m in 2014-15, triggering warnings it is placing significant pressure on its finances.

The costs of temporary staff and difficulties finding home-trained nurses are forcing health chiefs to turn abroad to find new recruits.

By April as many as 500 foreign nurses are likely to have joined hospital wards in the region in the previous 18 months, mainly from Spain and Portugal.

But increasing competition is forcing managers to look further afield amid plans in the New Year to visit Italy, Greece, Romania, India and the Philippines.

Last night there were warnings the difficulties - blamed on a lack of UK-trained recruits and extra safety demands in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal - could leave the NHS dependent on foreign recruits for years to come.

Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing, said trusts were “desperately competing” with each other to find recruits but using agency and overseas staff was “costly and completely unsustainable”.

“The failure by the coalition Government to invest in training UK nurses, with drastic cuts to student places in the past, has simply made the situation even worse,” he said. “Only long-term investment in nurses and nursing will ensure that the NHS keeps up with demand without patient care suffering. Failure to properly plan and invest will leave the health service reliant on overseas recruitment for years to come.”

Nick Samuels, of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said organisations were running up deficits as they put quality and safety first.

“This situation is unsustainable and we are encouraged to see that NHS England and political parties have recognised this with some additional funding for the NHS coming next year and plans to develop services to match our patients’ needs,” he said.