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HOSPITALS in England have splurged more than £3 billion on agency nurses in the last few years, according to new data.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) gathered figures under the Freedom of Information Act from 182 NHS trusts on spending on agency nurses plus nursing staff such as assistants and support workers.
The union said every region has spent millions of pounds, which it suggested could have paid the salaries of almost 31,000 full-time nurses or trained more than 86,000 new ones.
In total, NHS trusts spent £3.2bn between 2020 and 2022, with the London region spending the most at almost £630.5m, followed by the south-east at £582m.
Hospitals use doctors and nurses as temporary agency staff to fill gaps in rotas.
NHS England data shows that one in 10 — 42,306 — registered nursing posts stood vacant at the end of September.
RCN chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger said: “Ministers have got their priorities wrong, forcing trusts to squander billions on agency staff while they provide miserly funding for fair pay and nurse education.
“With cuts to nurse education and maintaining unfair pay levels, ministers are choosing to spend the money on much higher private agency bills instead.
“This is yet another false economy when it comes to NHS spending.
“This should act as a wake-up call. The government must give nursing staff and patients the investment and respect they deserve.
“Not acting now will mean even more patients on waiting lists and the crisis in the nursing workforce deepening further.”
The Department for Health and Social Care said: “These statistics cover the Covid pandemic when the NHS was under huge additional pressure and staff sickness rates were exceptionally high.
“While temporary staffing allows the NHS to meet fluctuations in demand, we are controlling spending by capping hourly pay and prioritising NHS staff when shifts need filling."
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