National Health Service (Use of Locums)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th June 2022.

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Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government is doing to tackle the reported growing use of locum staff in the national health service. (S6F-01228)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

The use of temporary staffing in the NHS, be that locum, agency or bank staff, is a very small fraction of NHS staffing. Temporary staff were vital during the height of the pandemic, not least to deliver our vaccination programme.

The majority of the temporary staffing cost comes from the NHS staff bank, who are of course NHS staff members on NHS rates of pay.

Every health system has to make some use of temporary or agency staffing. Let me illustrate that. In 2021, agency spending in NHS England was 23 per cent higher than in Scotland. In Labour-run Wales, agency spending was 79 per cent higher than in Scotland.

NHS staffing in Scotland is at a record high level and, as set out in our recent workforce strategy, we are committed to growing the NHS workforce further.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour

I thank the First Minister for her response, but I remind her that, of course, people in this chamber are responsible for the NHS in Scotland. Perhaps she should spend her time focusing on that, because agency spend has risen to £423 million in 2021-22, which represents a 30 per cent increase on the previous year. We have had a pandemic, but most of that increase is down to the increasing level of vacancies for nurses, doctors and consultants.

The First Minister may be aware that, currently, nurses are quitting the NHS to work for private agencies that then, in turn, place them back in the NHS to cover staff shortages. They can earn more in a weekend than they do all week working in the NHS. The consequence is more vacancies and more money being wasted on sticking-plaster solutions. What action will the First Minister take to end the costly and growing use of agency staff in our NHS?

The First Minister:

First, I am responsible and this Government is responsible for NHS Scotland, but as I have said before—I am sorry to disappoint Labour, as I am sure that I will also say this again—if Labour comes to the chamber to say that it would do things so much better, it is perfectly reasonable to look at the record in the part of the United Kingdom where Labour is currently in government and draw our own conclusions on whether that is true or not.

Secondly, we have a record number of workers in our NHS—even taking account of vacancies; I am talking about staff who are currently in post. The number has increased under this Government by almost 30,000.

The First Minister:

Yes, demand is growing. We have had a pandemic. That has meant that some workers in our NHS have been off sick, due to having Covid, and that additional things—not least, the vaccination programme—have had to be undertaken. I do not know what Jackie Baillie is suggesting. Should we just have left those posts somehow unfilled and not had those service delivered? Is that what a Labour Government would do? If that is the case, people will certainly draw conclusions from that.

I come to my final two points, Presiding Officer. The majority of temporary staffing comes from the staff bank. Those are NHS staff on NHS contracts at NHS rates of pay. Jackie Baillie asked me what action we are taking. We have already acted to ensure that there is a record number of staff in our NHS—higher, proportionately, than in England or Wales—and we will continue to grow the NHS workforce so that it can meet the demands of the people of Scotland in the years to come.

The Presiding Officer:

That concludes First Minister’s question time. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business, which is a members’ business debate in the name of Christine Grahame.