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Agency nurse costs £1,800 for just one shift in A&E at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust hospital

By Claire McWethy

An agency nurse cost £1,800 for just one A&E shift in Kent, according to shocking figures.

The Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust spent more than £4.7million to plug staff shortages between January and November 2013.

The results of a Freedom of Information Act request showed how spending on agency and locum staff had risen dramatically, by £1.6 million, in just two years.

KIMS Hospital staff struggled to maintain skills because of its low occupancy levels, according to the CQC
KIMS Hospital staff struggled to maintain skills because of its low occupancy levels, according to the CQC

This included £2.8million on nurses – enough to pay for the full-time wages of 93.

An agency nurse cost £1,800 for an 11-hour night shift on an August Bank Holiday last year – the highest single payment recorded by any NHS trust in the country for the 11-month period.

The organisation said it reflected the pay rate for public holidays.

On December 20, a locum consultant doctor cost the same for 10 hours' work.

A total of 1,325 agency staff triggered payments of at least £300 per shift at A&E departments in Tunbridge Wells and Maidstone hospitals.

All the sums included fees paid to agencies, which usually take around 15% of the bill.

Senior NHS managers have previously insisted rates of £1,000 per shift or more are paid only in crisis situations.

But the figures show 21 locum doctors cost more than £1,000 for a single shift during 2013.

Maidstone Hospital
Maidstone Hospital

A hospital spokesman said many issues could cause it to turn to temporary staff, including sudden high A&E attendances and staff sickness.

A Care Quality Commission report on A&E services at Tunbridge Wells Hospital identified high use of temporary staff in the past.

But the health watchdog said managers had made inroads to fill A&E vacancies with permanent staff, resulting in a significant reduction in agency use.

The spokesman added: "We thoroughly agree that agency charges are too high and that is why we are proactively addressing this issue and have been totally transparent with the Care Quality Commission.

"Reducing agency use will involve international recruitment, and we need an adult debate about this while the training of more doctors and nurses nationally takes effect."

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