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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 01:14 GMT 02:14 UK
Cost of nurses soars
nurses in uniform
Many nurses top up their pay with agency work
The cost of employing agency nurses in the NHS has soared to as much as £260m a year and is continuing to climb, new figures show.

Struggling to fill almost 10,000 vacant nursing posts, hospitals are relying on agency nurses.

A report in the Health Service Journal reveals spending on agency staff rose from £121m in 1991 to £216m in 1998 and has now reached an estimated £260m.

Despite orders from the House of Commons health select committee that the NHS should cut its spending on agency staff, health service managers believe the service cannot manage without them.

One human resources manager said hospitals in London - where nursing vacancies are running at 3,130 - have given up advertising because they do not believe they will attract any candidates.

Supplementing income

Agency pay attracts many nurses and,even those staff working in full time jobs regularly supplement their income with shifts through an agency.

The journal's report highlights the case of Mark Bird, a nursing manager at a London hospital who takes home £1,300 a month from his regular job, but tops this up with between £750 and £1,500 in agency income.

"Ninety-five per cent of the nursing people here have more than one job. Without us the service would go under." he said.

The figures come despite concerted recruitment drives around the UK and Department of Health claims that 10,000 more nurses have joined the NHS in the past 10 years.

Initiatives such as providing crèches in NHS hospitals and offering flexible working patterns are designed to overcome the persistent nurse shortage, but with seemingly limited effect.

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