A Southampton NHS trust has spent millions on temporary staff, new figures have revealed.

More than £17m has been forked out by University Hospital Southampton (UHS) between 2020 to 2022 on agency staff.

But the trust, which runs Southampton General Hospital, said this figure reflects the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Temporary staff are being employed to fill the holes in rotas and to keep wards open – but at a hefty cost.

Findings from a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reveal the extent of the spending.

Ellen McNicholas, regional director of RCN, said these staffing decisions are ‘financially untenable’.

"These figures are a stark reminder that Trusts cannot keep plugging gaps in staffing in this way," she said.

The full figures of money spent on temporary agency staff at UHS

Daily Echo:

January to December 2020

  • Acute/specialist registered nurse (RN) - £5,178,000
  • Acute/specialist healthcare support worker, healthcare assistant, nursing associate (HCSW, HCA, NA) - £128,000

January to December 2021 

  • Acute/specialist RN - £6,109,000
  • Acute/specialist HCSW, HCA, NA - £730,000

January to December 2022

  • Acute/specialist RN - £8,240,000
  • Acute/specialist HCSW, HCA, NA - £2,072,500

In total, the amount paid by UHS to employ temporary staff across two years is a staggering £17,284,678.

READ MORE: Researchers handed £5million to look into health inequalities

Costs were higher as extra staff were needed during Covid, the trust said. The following years' spend also increased as the hospital dealt with a backlog of patients in the aftermath of the pandemic.

"The figures also reflect the size of the organisation which has an annual turnover of £1 billion," a spokesperson said.

“This includes increases in pressure on emergency care and the number of patients with mental health issues requiring specific support, as well as an increase in elective (planned) activity to manage the backlog the pandemic created.”

The trust said filling vacancies has remained a priority.

Daily Echo: General view of staff on a NHS hospital wardGeneral view of staff on a NHS hospital ward (Image: Jeff Moore/PA Wire)

A spokesperson said: “Our priority is always to ensure the safety of our patients so where agency nurses are required they will be used.

“We also make extensive use of our bank, offering our own staff the opportunity to take up additional shifts before requesting agency support.

“We have been working hard to fill vacancies and reduce spend on agency nurses where possible through a number of initiatives, including recruitment of newly qualified nurses leaving university, our own nurse apprentice route and international nurses."

READ NEXT: Medical training could be moved to uni campus to free up space for NHS

The spokesperson added: “Prior to the pandemic we had significantly reduced our high-cost agency spend and our substantive registered nurse staffing has improved significantly over the past couple of years.

“We continue to make positive progress and remain committed to increasing our nursing workforce further.”

Union boss Ms McNicholas said: “While the option for some people to work in agency roles is important, the NHS should not become over reliant on calling in agency staff to run essential services.

“What is needed is a sustainable workforce plan and to have nursing seen as the amazing role that it is.

“With better pay, nursing will be considered as a more viable option for those hoping to enter the profession as well as retaining those with experience.”