£10m. spent on agency staff by Burnley hospital bosses

Gordon Birtwistle

Gordon Birtwistle

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CASH-STRAPPED East Lancashire Hospitals Trust spent nearly £10m. on agency staff in the last financial year.

The Trust, which in recent years has closed Burnley General Hospital’s A and E unit and Deerplay children’s ward, was forced to reveal the amount after Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle made a Freedom of Information request.

Mr Birtwistle, a fervent campaigner to bring services back to Burnley, expressed his shock and horror at the revelation.

“I am appalled by this dreadful waste of money. I have spoken to many local nurses who cannot get full-time work and I can’t understand why the Trust is not employing them.

“As I understand it, agency staff usually cost up to twice as much per head as regular staff. This makes no financial sense at all and is a prime example of the Trust being totally out of tune with the wishes of local people.”

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust admitted it had spent £9.675m. on agency staff in 2009/10 and is estimated to spend £10.296m. on agency staff by the end of the 2010/1 financial year.

Mr Birtwistle added: “It’s about time the Trust started spending its money more wisely, I am sure that the people of Burnley would prefer that positions were filled by local staff rather than agency staff from other parts of the country. This money would also be better spent on building services back up at Burnley. I have asked the Trust about other areas of spending under the Freedom of Information Act and am dreading seeing the figures.”

But the Trust’s director of human resources, Ian Brandwood, defended its position saying that agency staff were needed to cover sickness and holidays.

He said: “Sickness absence across the Trust has fallen by 11% during the last year and spending on temporary staff has reduced by 6%, despite the VAT increase which we are required to pay on some agency costs.

“The bulk of the Trust’s agency spend (£6.6m.) is spent on doctors, who are often individuals working in areas where there are national shortages of doctors, making it difficult for any hospital to recruit permanently.

“Only £110,000 was spent on nursing agency staff. Where there is a requirement for temporary nursing staff cover, these shifts are offered to our own staff in the first instance and such shifts are carried out at normal nursing rates.

“The total staffing budget for the Trust is £227m. and spending on temporary staffing represents less than 5% of this figure. We expect our staffing costs to be contained within budget this year.”