Page last updated at 12:05 GMT, Friday, 30 May 2008 13:05 UK

Hospitals cut agency nurse costs

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital
Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has cut the use of agency nurses

The NHS in the East has saved millions of pounds through cutting in the use of agency nurses, a survey has shown.

The BBC survey also found the rates of pay for agency nurses varied from 10 to 57 an hour, depending on the hospital and qualifications.

Hospitals which have seen the biggest reduction in costs over the past four years include Northampton General and Princess Alexandra Hospital, Harlow.

Big reductions have also been recorded by Ipswich Hospital in Suffolk.

At Northampton General Hospital spending on agency nurses has gone from 1.16m in 2004/2005 to 380,476 in 2007/2008, according to figures released after a Freedom of Information Act request from BBC News Interactive, Norwich.

At the Princess Alexandra Hospital spending has dropped from 1.42m to 206,000 over the same period.

While at Ipswich Hospital spending has reduced from 1.1m to 27,000.

Hospital agency nurse spending in 2007/08 (compared to 2004/05)
Luton and Dunstable 188,000 (771,000)
Addenbrooke's, Cambridge 474,157 (795,962)
Princess Alexandra, Harlow 206,000 (1.42m)
Norfolk and Norwich University 12,151 (708,884)
James Paget Hospital, Gorleston 8,912 (837,320)
Northampton General 380,476 (1.16m)
Kettering Hospital 430,568 (280,894)
Ipswich Hospital 27,000 (1.1m)

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital has seen a drop from 708,884 to 12,151 and at Norfolk's James Paget Hospital, Gorleston, spending has reduced from 837,320 to 8,912.

Andrew Stronach, head of communications at the Norfolk and Norwich, said: "A number of years ago we took a decision to convert what we had previously been spending on agency nurses into permanent nursing staff posts as we believe it delivers a better quality of service to our patients."

Nick Coveney, director of nursing and patient services at the James Paget, said: "The trust operates with very few nursing vacancies and the use of external temporary nursing staff is only considered once all other options have been exhausted."

Kettering General Hospital, which spent 280,894 on agency nurses in 2004/2005, reduced the spend to 24,568 in 2006/2007, but the following year it leapt up to 430,743.

A spokesman for Kettering General Hospital said that "2007/8 has been a period of growth for the trust and it has undertaken significant extra work to achieve 18-week waiting time targets".

"To do this effectively it has needed to increase its staffing levels and this has included using some agency staff during the adjustment period - the 430,000 represents only 0.4% of the trust's overall spend of 97m on staff."

Neil Sellen, workforce consultant with the East of England Strategic Health Authority, said hospitals have achieved these savings through better management of staff and staff holidays.

"The trusts are ensuring that not everyone takes their annual leave at the same time," he said.

Mr Sellen added that trusts are also getting better at handling staff absences due to sickness.

"They are also filling vacant posts promptly to ensure agency staff are kept to a minimum," he added.

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