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NHS Tayside forced to fork out for agency nursing cover in Angus

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Costly agency nurses have been used in Angus for the first time to retain local facilities which are currently in the grip of a staffing crisis.

NHS Tayside has admitted the struggle it is facing to keep some locations open – a fight already lost at Stracathro’s Mulberry adult psychiatric care ward which has been the subject of interim closure since February due to a shortage of doctors.

The health authority’s chairman, Professor John Connell has revealed the body had to resort to using agency cover in Angus for the first time, leading to an MSP’s call for the Scottish Government to take action.

Angus Health and Social Care Partnership said only 13 shifts across Angus were covered by agency staff this year.

Conservative north east MSP Liam Kerr approached Professor Connell over constituent concerns about local primary healthcare, including the Mulberry ‘mothballing’, blaming a Scotland-wide shortage of junior doctors.

Prof Connell said: “There are particular challenges in relation to nurses and medical staff, and for the first time within Angus, agency nurses have had to be used at times during the past year to keep the hospital sites operational.

“In part, this is due to the number of sites operating in Angus. There has also been a requirement to use locum cover for both senior and junior medical posts.

“In relation to junior doctor cover, this is due to the change in number and expectations of those in training.”

The MSP commented: “Angus is a fantastic area to work in but there have been challenges getting people to try it out as a place to live and work.

“The Scottish Government have been repeatedly warned about this for years and have done nothing to address a shortage in junior doctors.

“Millions of pounds are being spent to plug gaps which could have been avoided had the Scottish Government carried out proper workforce planning for the future.

“This is basic stuff and I cannot understand why it has not been done.

“Alarm bells should be ringing when the board cannot provide nursing cover in its smallest local hospitals but this is not a new problem.

“It is simply one that the Scottish Government has turned a blind eye to over many years.”

“There has also been a requirement to use locum cover for both senior and junior medical posts.

“In relation to junior doctor cover, this is due to the change in number and expectations of those in training.”

Figures have revealed that spending on agency nurses in Tayside has gone up ten-fold in the past five years and the authority faces a fight to save more than £200 million by 2022

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “There are over 3,000 more whole time equivalent nursing and midwifery staff working in our NHS compared to five years ago.

“This year we have also increased nursing and midwifery training places by 4.7%, bringing the total number of places available in 2017-18 to 3,360.

“For the last five years, this Government has made consecutive increases to the number of student nurse training places.

“We’re working with health boards to reduce the overall use of agency staff, including by establishing regional and national staff banks – which allows health boards greater access to a pool of highly-skilled, flexible NHS staff.

“Last year, agency nursing represented just 0.4% of the total NHS nursing spend.”

A spokesperson for Angus Health and Social Care Partnership, said, “In Angus hospitals we are able to deploy our staff very effectively and only use agency staff very rarely.

“In fact, this year we have used agency staff to cover only 13 shifts across all inpatient sites in Angus and this was to ensure we continued to deliver safe and effective patient care.

“We are currently working on longer term plans to ensure sustainable health and care services for Angus and this includes future workforce models.”

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