Concern over £16m temporary staffing bill for Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust

Hellesdon Hospital in Norwich.

Hellesdon Hospital in Norwich. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Mental health bosses pledged to reduce temporary staffing costs in Norfolk and Suffolk after it emerged that an NHS trust spent more than £16m in the space of a year on locums and agency workers.

New figures released by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's (NSFT) revealed that the mental health trust spent on average £1.3m a month during the 2013/14 financial year on temporary pay costs.

Campaigners warned that the 'eye watering' spending to fill posts with medical locums and bank and agency staff was 'unsustainable' and affected the quality of services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

The mental health trust, which cut almost £15m from its more than £200m budget last year as part of a redesign of services, saw 175 staff leave last year through voluntary and compulsory redundancies.

The organisation is looking to reduce its budget by 20pc between 2012 and 2016 as part of an NHS efficiency drive.

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However, the trust spent £16.3m on temporary staffing costs during 2013/14, according to its annual report.

Officials from NSFT said the organisation had used locums and agency staff during its radical redesign of services to reduce the numbers of redundancies and it had been necessary to use temporary workers to maintain safe staffing levels in some areas where it was harder to recruit.

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Emma Corlett, NSFT Unison media spokesperson, who is also a mental health nurse in Norwich, said the cuts to local services had proved to be a 'false economy.'

She added that the trust continued to spend large sums of money on temporary staffing costs, which amounted to £2.39m in August and more than £8m for the first half of the 2014/15 financial year.

'These figures are alarming. This unbudgeted expenditure is unsustainable and presents a further serious risk to our mental health services. The use of temporary staffing to plug gaps is poor for continuity and consistency of care, which established evidence suggests leads to worse outcomes for people who use mental health services.

'The consequences of these deep cuts to our services are starting to bite even more now, and we need urgent intervention in the form of additional funding and call on Norman Lamb, the government minister responsible, NHS England and the Clinical Commissioning Groups to act. Fine words about parity of esteem between mental and physical health mean nothing without action,' she said.

Bosses at NSFT said they were working hard to reduce temporary staffing costs by hiring more front-line workers and had received a net gain of 50 extra clinical staff so far this year.

Officials have warned that NSFT, which holds its AGM in Ipswich on Friday, will need to find a further £14.7m of savings in 2014/15.

Gary Page, chairman of the mental health trust, said: 'We have undergone significant changes that have delivered substantial cost savings but in this financial year, the trust is facing a deficit for the first time. We are addressing this by reducing expensive out of area placements, which have been halved in the last three months and accelerating our recruitment programme to replace more expensive temporary staff with permanent staff. These measures will save money but more importantly will improve patient care.'

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