Wales’ health boards spend £1.3bn to fill staff shortages

The Welsh Government’s retraining and recruiting strategy needs “real teeth” to get more full-time staff in the NHS rather than spending money on emergency workers to fill shortages, the Shadow Health Minister has said.


The response to a Freedom of Information request made by the Welsh Conservatives has revealed £837m has been spent on agency staff in the last five years (2016/17-2020/21). A further £502m was spent on bank staff.


Bank staff are used as a less expensive alternative to agencies and are formed of flexible workers who want to work in the NHS when there is a need for temporary staff at times of increased patient demand or higher sickness rates among staff.


North Wales’ Betsi Cadwaladr health board spent the most on agency workers, splurging £189.8m over the last five years. Cwm Taf Morgannwg spent the most on agency staff last year, £44.2m.


Aneurin Bevan health board, which covers Gwent, incurred more costs using bank staff than any other health board – £111.8m over five years. It also saw year-on-year increases in agency expenditure from £16m in 2016/17 to £40.6m in 2020/21.


Across Wales, £326.6m was used for medical agency workers (including doctors) over the last five years and £358.7m for agency nursing, midwifery, and nursing assistants.


Betsi Cadwaladr and Dyfed’s Hywel Dda were the highest spending health boards for both of these categories, using £98.6m and £80.6m to fund the emergency staff, respectively.


Responding to the findings, Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS, said:


“This country’s leaders venerate our healthcare workforce, but these figures show they do not have the inclination to invest in that workforce. We need a ‘Recruit, Train, Retain’ strategy in place that includes greater flexibility for NHS staff, which will help prevent burnout and reliance on agencies.


“Sadly, the Welsh Government’s current programme is missing real teeth in meeting its purpose. Being so dependent on temporary staff is not a sign of a well-functioning NHS and demonstrates a problem in planning and management.


“To solve this issue, we must understand what’s causing it. One answer I hear time and time again is that Wales is not an attractive place to live when it is so poorly run from the centre in Cardiff Bay.


“For strong public services, we need a strong economy but Labour’s record on these fronts go far in explaining why there are staff shortages across NHS Wales.”

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