THE soaring cost of hiring nurses to cover shortages at NHS Fife is a “clear indication that there are not enough staff” to treat patients. 

That’s the claim from Liz Smith, Tory MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, with an ISD Scotland report showing the amount spent shot up from £5 million in 2011-12 to £7.9m in 2015-16. 

The number of hours done by agency and bank nurses also climbed from 335,000 to 435,000 in the same period and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland said the increasing costs were “not sustainable”. 

Ms Smith said: “The cost of providing this type of cover is also spiralling. 
“Bosses in NHS Fife spent £5m on these services in 2011 but now spend closer to £8m on bank and agency staff.” 

She continued: “Everyone accepts there will be time when cover needs to be called in, and that this cover comes at a price. 

“However, for so many hours to be filled by non-permanent staff members is quite incredible. 

“Patients need a consistent approach to their care and it would appear as though hundreds of nurses are passing through our hospitals without spending enough time to build relationships with patients.”

The MSP said the ISD report gave a “clear indication that there are not enough staff” to cover hospital wards in Fife and called for more cash from the Scottish Government for permanent workers.

RCN Scotland said the national picture was no better as, while the number of nursing and midwifery staff had increased, the vacancy rate had also gone up by a similar figure.  

Director Theresa Fyffe said: “This clearly shows that health boards continue to struggle to fill permanent nursing posts and are having to resort to expensive agency nurses to fill the gaps.

“This is not sustainable. While some investment in agency nursing will always be needed to cover unexpected events such as sickness absence and make sure there are enough nurses to provide safe care for patients, health boards cannot continue to ratchet up spending on agency nurses, which increased by £7.5m in the last year. 

“These figures clearly show that health boards are struggling to deliver services to more and more people, with budgets which are not keeping pace with the increasing demands on the NHS.”

An NHS Fife spokesperson said: “Over the last year, NHS Fife has significantly reduced its agency spend by around 20 per cent, which amounts to a £280,000 decrease, and we continue to utilise our existing nurse bank in increasingly efficient ways. 

“Importantly, our nurse bank is a valuable resource made up of NHS Fife staff who wish to work flexibly without fixed hours and are paid at NHS rates. 

“Our bank staff means NHS Fife avoids gaps in the workforce arising from not only vacancies but also unplanned absence.

“Whilst the use of bank and agency staff can be heavily influenced by the number of nursing vacancies, we are pleased to have reduced vacancy numbers by almost 40 per cent since September. 

“We expect this number will be further reduced over the coming months, as we have recruited a number of student nurses who graduate in September and work continues to recruit staff to all specialties.”