NHS trust spending on agency staff surged to £3.5bn last year, according to recently published figures.
New spending figures show trusts are going backwards in their bid to reduce agency spending, after several years in which they managed to shrink these costs.
Accounts data published by NHS England shows this outlay increased to £3.5bn in 2022-23, compared to £3bn the previous year, and around £2.4bn in the previous four years.
Last year’s cash spend on agency staff nearly equalled the amount spent in 2015-16, which sparked major intervention from regulators to introduce new caps on spending. The reductions achieved in subsequent years were hailed as a “huge achievement” by regulators. Last year’s final bill came despite NHSE trying to limit expenditure to £2.3bn.
NHSE’s finance boss Julian Kelly said last week the service had seen “really substantial” growth in agency and bank costs during covid and now had to “turn that around”.
NHSE has continued to try to control spending through a series of caps and spending limits.
A spokesman said spending on agency staff in the seven months to October 2023 has reduced in absolute terms and as a proportion of spending, compared to the same period last year.
He added: “The NHS will continue to reduce reliance on agencies in the coming years by training more NHS staff domestically and retaining more existing staff, as part of the NHS long-term workforce plan.”
This year the national agency cap has been increased to £2.8bn, which if achieved would bring the spend to 3.7 per cent of the NHS pay bill. Individual integrated care systems targets range from 2.5 per cent in Cambridge and Peterborough to 6 per cent in Lincolnshire. Sally Gainsbury, senior policy analyst at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “Given the increase in staff sickness absence which accompanied the pandemic, attempts to reduce agency staff spending need to be based on robust analysis of what is driving it.
“In particular, we need to understand how much of the increase is caused by a growth in the sheer numbers of agency staff being employed, and how much is driven by increases in the rate charged by locums and staff agencies. It is likely that the balance between these two factors will vary geographically, between staff groups and between specialties.”
Date: 14 December