NHS Scotland has spent more than £250m on agency nurses over the last five years – with the bill for the last year alone having almost doubled.
Expenditure on locum agency nursing staff amounted to £92,295,816 in 2021-22, compared with a total of £47,627,338 the previous year.
The figures were revealed in answer to a freedom of information request from Scottish Labour, which showed the bill for agency nurses amounted to an “eye-watering” £258,616,766 over the period 2017-18 to 2021-22.
The number of shifts worked by agency nurses amounted to 166,722 over the five years, with 57,359 such shifts in 2021-22 alone – a rise of 192% from the previous year’s total of 19,616.
While the majority of health boards did not say the highest amount they had paid for someone to do a single shift, NHS Ayrshire and Arran revealed it had spent £1,710.98 on one nursing shift, while NHS Lothian has paid up to £1,903.09 per shift.
Separate figures meanwhile showed the NHS had more than 6,200 nursing vacancies at the end of March.
Nurses are to be balloted on strike action, after rejecting the 5% pay rise offered by the Scottish Government.
The Royal College of Nursing Scotland is to ballot members on industrial action after more than 90% of its eligible members voted against accepting the pay offer.
Speaking about the cost of using agency staff, Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “This eye-watering bill to the public purse is the direct result of the SNP Government’s failure to support Scotland’s nurses.”
She added: “We are now facing an exodus of nurses from the NHS as a result of SNP mismanagement – and the people of Scotland are being expected to pick up the tab.
“This is no way to run our NHS and no way to look after the people of Scotland.
“That there are currently over 6,200 nursing and midwifery vacancies in Scotland is simply shocking and is an indictment on years of SNP failure.
“With Scotland’s nurses forced to strike, (Health Secretary) Humza Yousaf must wake up to the problem and get around the table with the RCN and other unions.
“We cannot have the people of Scotland paying the price of SNP failure.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Spend on agency nursing remains low, and is less than 1% of NHS spend.
“The use of temporary staff in an organisation as large and complex as NHS Scotland will always be required to ensure vital service provision during times of planned and unplanned absences such as annual, maternity and sick leave.
“The majority of these shifts are filled from the NHS Staff Bank, who are NHS staff, on NHS contracts at NHS rates of pay. We have over 35,000 nurses and 2,900 doctors registered through the NHS Staff Bank.”