NHS paid doctor £375 an hour

NHS spending on agency workers has risen sharply in the past financial year in spite of attempts to control such expenditure, according to figures issued by the Conservatives.

Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, cited examples of NHS Trusts paying “hugely inflated” salaries to temporary workers for covering shifts.

A nurse in Yeovil was paid £146 an hour, another in Derby £136 an hour, and an IT manager in Whittington received £400 an hour.

The freedom of information disclosures also show that an agency doctor in King’s Lynn was paid £375 an hour – equivalent to an annual salary of £660,000. Mr Lansley said that such payments divert funds from the front line and prove that Labour’s attempts to control health agency expenditure are failing.

The NHS spent £1.25bn on temps in 2008-09, according to figures provided by the department of health to the Tories. This was a sharp increase on the £831m spent the previous year and the £785m in 2006-07.

But it is below the £1.4bn bill that agencies presented to the NHS in both 2002-03 and 2003-04, when agencies accounted for 5.5 per cent of the payroll.

Patricia Hewitt, former health secretary, described agency pay as “massively expensive” and called for hospitals to use permanent staff instead.

About 130,000 workers in the health service are not permanent staff.

While most trusts did not disclose fees paid to agencies, some of them received as much as 43 per cent of each payment, according to the Tories. The typical agency fee, among the 33 trusts that replied in detail, was 26 per cent.

Trusts and local authorities have been urged to pool resources to improve their purchasing power.

A report last year by Leeds university and the Economic and Social Research Council found that, although fees had dropped in recent years, temps were still generally more expensive than permanent staff.

The presence of temps, while “unavoidable”, could also damage the morale of permanent staff because they were often given easier tasks.

But the National Audit Office said last year that agency workers could be used as a way for the NHS to control costs. Temps could be cheaper because they did not receive the same training and perks as permanent staff.

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