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Medway NHS Foundation Trust spends more than £11m on temporary nurses in year

By Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Medway NHS Foundation Trust spent more than £11m on temporary nursing staff last year, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The total agency cost of staff nurses in 2017 was £9,489,932 in 2017, while bank staff providing cover when required were paid a further £1,845,180.

Although the total sum is lower than previous years, the nurse vacancy rate still stood at 26.78% at the end of last year.

Nurse serving a meal to a patient. Stock picture
Nurse serving a meal to a patient. Stock picture

Patricia Marquis, Royal College of Nursing’s south east regional director, said; “The priority for any hospital is to ensure safe staffing – poor nursing staff levels have a serious impact on patient outcomes.

“Medway NHS Foundation Trust’s nurse vacancy rate for December 2017 is particularly high, but it is by no means alone.

“There is a shortfall of 40,000 nurses across the UK, which has been driven by a lack of nursing training places in recent times.

“While training places have increased, this poor planning still means there are gaps to be filled, often by more expensive agency staff.

“We hear from our members across the region that staffing shortages are impacting the level of care they can offer.

“Without agency staff providing cover, the reality is that patient care would be even more severely compromised.”

The Freedom of Information request also revealed 33 newly qualified nurses started working at the trust between September and December last year.

Cllr Teresa Murray (Lab), health spokesperson for Medway Labour, said the Government’s decision to end bursaries for student nurses and midwives could further the issue, but paid tribute to the local trust for trying to attract permanent staff.

She added: “They have tried many different tactics such as working with local universities and a programme that works to entice nurses from Spain to come to work at the hospital.

“The problems we face are poor wages, difficult working conditions, and – more recently – a complete lack of financial learning support for nurses.

Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham
Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham

“There is a pay rise on the table at the moment, but this is not a real terms increase when inflation is taken into account, and will happen over a very long period of time.”

The agencies which provided nurses throughout last year were Genepool, Day Webster, Cromwell, Hays, TFS, Trust Nurse Services, Total Assist, Red Spot, 11th Hour, Medics Pro, Medacs, Imperial Medical Staffing, Synergy, Globe and RIG.

James Devine, the trust’s deputy chief executive and executive director of HR, said the trust had reduced its overall spend on agency staff by £8m year-on-year.

He said: “Agency staff are expensive, but like all NHS Trusts we make use of agency nurses when we must to ensure we have enough nurses on our wards to provide safe care.

“Our recruitment and retention plans are progressing well and are continuing to reflect the changes in demand across the trust.

“We are recruiting above replacement rate, with more nurses starting at the trust than leaving it for more of the 2017/18 financial year, and we currently have a substantial number of nurses in the process of being recruited into the trust.”

Mr Devine added a number of “exciting events” will be held this year in a bid to attract “the best nurses” to work in Medway.

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