GWENT’s health council has spent £20.6m on agency and bank nurses over the past year, a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed.
The Aneurin Bevan University Health Board said spending on temporary staff was due to staffing shortages in medical and social care.
The FOI request was put forward by independent councilor Kevin Etheridge, who described the findings as “shocking”.
Cllr Etheridge, who represents Blackwood, said: “Going into winter is very worrying and I think the Welsh government should step in, we can’t leave this up to the board of health.”
The FOI revealed that the board of health has not received any funding from the Welsh Government to specifically cover the cost of bank and agency nurses, but “some” Covid-19 funding has been used to cover it.
The councilor has written to the health minister, Eluned Morgan, to request additional funding for the health board. Cllr Etheridge said: “If this is happening in the ABUHB area, it must be happening on other health boards in Wales.”
The Welsh government has said it is investing “record levels” of money in the professional training and education of health workers.
An ABUHB spokesperson said: “Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been responding to unprecedented demand for patient care, as well as an increased number of patients with complex needs who require more specialized treatment.
“The highly publicized staffing shortages in health and social care across the UK, the extra demand for care and staff illness have resulted in staffing gaps requiring regular use of agency and bank nursing staff. .
“It is important to note that many of our bank employees are either permanent staff members working extra shifts or are those who have worked regular shifts with us for many years but prefer to work flexibly through a bank arrangement. This is consistent with other NHS organizations and our regular bank workers form a critical part of our substantive workforce, at substantially less cost to us than agency staff.
“We continue to rapidly recruit permanent staff and are investing in record levels of professional training and education, with more training locations than ever before.”
Of the 2,397 health board officials, 2,088 are assigned to banks.
A statement from the Welsh Government: “The NHS in Wales offers opportunities for nurses who wish to work more flexibly to sign up to work in the banks of NHS organisations, where they benefit from national payment terms and conditions and can choose to work flexibly at times that suit them and in the family environment where they are most comfortable.
“There are more staff working in NHS Wales than ever before, and this year we are investing record levels in professional training and education, £262m, including more training places than ever before.
“The workforce strategy, published by Health Education and Improvement Wales and Social Care Wales, sets out a long-term vision for the health and social care workforce, and we are developing a shorter-term plan to address to current pressures.
What is a bank and agency worker?
Bank workers provide a pool of temporary staff to fill planned or unplanned shortfalls in the workforce, including sick leave, vacancies, and annual or maternity leave.
Bank workers may already work for the organization, or may have applied to be part of the organization’s bank.
Agency staff work for an agency and have temporary contracts for specific hospitals or departments.
Both positions give workers the flexibility to choose when and where to work, and the opportunity to supplement their annual salary.