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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 February 2008, 17:11 GMT
NHS paid 120 an hour for nurses
Doctor and nurse in operating theatre
The amounts paid to agency staff varied widely between health trusts
Hospitals have paid over 120 an hour for agency workers to cover for gaps in staffing, according to latest figures.

The highest amounts paid for an agency nurse were 121.59 an hour by the Royal Berkshire trust and 121.10 by the Chesterfield and Royal Hospital trust.

The figures for the past year were obtained by the Conservative Party under the Freedom of Information Act.

Last year, the Commons Public Accounts Committee said temporary nurses helped NHS flexibility but could be costly.

Job cuts

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour's chaotic, short-term planning has let down NHS staff. Some stability for them is the least we would have expected from the billions that the government has poured into the NHS.

"It's incredible that agency staff can be paid such high hourly rates when jobs are being cut at the same time. This is typical of the waste that's occurred under this government."

The Tories say average hourly rates in the NHS are 15.66 for a nurse, 24.14 for a junior doctor and 60.31 for a consultant.

The highest figures for non-clinical agency staff were 119 an hour for a 'turnaround director' at Coventry Teaching Primary Trust and 110 an hour for financial staff at Heatherwood and Wexham Park Hospitals Trust in Berkshire.

'Important role'

At the other end of the scale, the most Bath and North East Somerset Primary Care Trust paid for an agency nurse was 31.15 an hour and the most expensive agency worker at South Western Ambulance Trust was a deputy finance director who received 33.33 an hour.

A spokesman for the Royal Berkshire Hospital said: "We are unsure what the figure represents but it may well be that the sum was paid as a one-off payment for expert medical care. The hospital will be checking its records further."

Temporary staff are employed in the NHS to cover changes in workload, vacant positions and short-term absences.

The Public Accounts Committee report said: "Properly managed, temporary nurses play an important role in helping hospitals achieve flexibility.

"Excessive use can be costly, particularly when trusts are heavily reliant on agency nurses. High use of temporary nurses can also have a negative impact on patient care and satisfaction."

Tom Hadley, of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: "To suggest that agency workers are a drain on resources is wide off the mark.

"The cost of agency workers is often taken out of context and it is a shame that the massive contribution that flexible and highly skilled workers make to the front line delivery of NHS services is regularly overlooked.

"Furthermore, the commission charged by agencies is, in reality, extremely tight."

Mr Hadley added that it was "ridiculous" to suggest that every agency nurse gets paid 120 per hour.

"The most recent National Audit Office report concludes that on average, agency nurses were only marginally more expensive than NHS staff and reasons for this can be attributed to training and the use of more specialist skills which you would expect to pay more for."



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