BASILDON Hospital has spent £12.9million on stop-gap staff in a year.

This is despite a crippling £9million rolling debt, as revealed in the Echo earlier this month, which has led to finance bosses setting up regular crisis meetings.

Last year, the hospital said it was looking to Spain and the Philippines to recruit nurses to plug the shortfall.

The £12.9million spent in a year could have covered the annual salary of up to 500 nurses.

Hospital bosses said changes in overseas procedures, by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, meant about 100 staff could not start until late last year. Finance chiefs admit this has contributed to the hospital having the highest number of temporary staff – more than double the £6million cost in 2011/12.

Clare Panniker, the hospital’s chief executive, said: “There will always be a need to use agency nurses, however we are working to minimise this as much as possible through better planning.

“Some of the 100 nurses who were recruited from overseas are currently working under supervision pending commencement of their formal overseas nursing programmes.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council processes around this have taken longer than expected, which could not have been envisaged at the time of interviewing.”

The hospital recruited an extra 200 nurses in 2013 to cope with the extra burden, but over half of these were delayed because they were employed from overseas.

In July, the hospital posted its biggest expenditure on stop-gap staff – just over £2.5million, with the majority going on nurses. In total £4.4million of the £12.9million went on nursing staff over the year.

Last week, the trust had 128 nursing posts vacant, but Ms Panniker added: “We are continuing to recruit nurses.

“Patient care and safety is our priority and that includes ensuring ward staffing levels meet safe standards.

“An investment of £1.8million in nursing staff was agreed by the hospital board in April/May 2013 for 200 additional nursing posts. It was recognised that in the short term more temporary staffing would be needed to increase staff numbers on shifts until the new starters arrive.”

The hospital was not able to say how many agency staff it employed or how much of a cut the agencies took from the money their staff were paid by Basildon Hospital.

Nurses train in UK, but then go abroad

NURSES are training here then leaving England because the lure of working abroad is too great, according to the Royal College of Nursing.

A report from the college reveals that between 2010 and 2012, the number of full-time nurses in the UK dipped by some 3,700. So Basildon Hospital searching abroad for recruits makes sense when you consider more and more British nurses are seeking opportunities elsewhere.

Author of the report, James Buchan, from Queen Margaret University, said: “The UK has moved from a situation of net inflow of nurses to a position of net outflow in recent years, meaning more nurses are moving abroad than are coming to the UK to practice.”

The main destinations are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA.”

Weakness in system led to ID changes

THE Nursing and Midwifery Council, the organisation behind the nursing recruitment changes was adamant hospitals were well aware of the new guidelines and explained the changes in detail.

It said it had published all details of the changes in a monthly newsletter as well as talking to NHS employers directly when they were in discussion stages.

A spokeswoman said they had become aware of a “potential weakness” in its system with registering overseas staff when reviewing procedures, but would not elaborate.

She said: “In order to protect the public, we reacted immediately to strengthen our processes.

“The biggest change to date (in August 2013) has been to require applicants to attend a face-toface identification check, with originals of all their identification documents.

“We have also introduced new identification verification software. Since the introduction of the new policy the overseas nursing programme will always consist of, as a minimum, 20 days learning time and up to 12 months of supervised practice.

“The length of the supervised practice is determined on an assessment of the individual nurse’s training programme.”