Concerns have been raised about the growing cost of using agency workers to plug gaps in NHS staffing across Fife in recent years.
The region’s Liberal Democrats have drawn attention to what they called “serious problems facing NHS Fife in recruitment”, especially in relation to medical and dental staff.
Group leader Councillor Tim Brett said his particular interest in the Fife situation was reignited by a recent Audit Scotland report showing an increase of 107% in agency spending from £82.8 million to £171.4 million in the last five years across Scotland as a whole.
Fife’s spending was more than £7 million, with the sum spent said to be gradually increasing over the recording period.
NHS Fife has stressed that action taken by the board has seen the figure reduced, but Mr Brett believes the use of agency nurses points to a wider staffing problem.
“I was very concerned to see that in NHS Fife the use of agency staff has increased more than in other parts of Scotland, with the board incurring a cost of over £7 million,” Mr Brett noted.
“I would want to acknowledge the board’s work in trying to address this critical issue, given the increases in patient demand faced by all parts of the health service due to patients presenting with more complex conditions.
“However it must be noted that the responsibility for staffing numbers rests firmly with the Scottish Government.
“Their reduction in medical staff training places in Scotland must be contributing to the problems now faced by the service.
“I will continue to monitor the effects of this situation on both the staffing and the costs of the service.”
North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said he also shared Mr Brett’s concerns over staffing in Fife.
He remarked: ‘This is a huge increase in the cost of employing bank staff, showing that the local NHS is under real pressure.
“Patching up gaps in staffing with temporary employees is not sustainable in the long run.
“This is an amber warning for NHS bosses which should result in firmer action before the situation worsens.”
Barbara-Anne Nelson, director of human resources at NHS Fife, defended the use of agency and bank staff, but stressed that the health board was working hard to bring its reliance on them down.
“Across the NHS, agency use is commonplace and regularly used to cover absence or fill posts on a temporary basis while recruitment is underway,” she said.
“Our spend on agency staff compares well with other boards, particularly when understood as a proportion of our overall workforce.
“Whilst we are not complacent, we have has a number of significant recruitment successes in the past few months and have reduced our agency spend by a fifth over the last year.
“We are working to further reduce this figure in the future.”