Great Western Hospital forked out more than £2,500 to pay an agency nurse for one shift, new figures have revealed.

Data obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information Request shows that the Swindon hospital paid just over £16 million for agency staff in 2021-22 to plug gaps in its health care.

And on one occasion, an agency nurse was paid £2,548.69 for a single 12-hour shift - the equivalent of £212.40 an hour.

The Labour party received responses from 60 NHS Trusts across the UK, with the Great Western Hospital Trust’s payout for that single shift being the most expensive in the country.

A spokesperson from Great Western Hospital said that its priority was to always provide safe levels of patient care, and this meant that on occasion it needed to bring in nursing staff through agencies to cover shifts that would otherwise be vacant.

“Agencies do not have capped rates so are largely free to charge what they want to. This means the fees the agency company charge can be expensive, particularly when we need to cover shifts which require enhanced support such as mental health nurses or cover for bank holidays - as was the case on this occasion.”

The hospital added that it was taking steps to reduce the need for expensive agency staff but further reiterated the impact of a national shortage in nursing staff.

“We have focused efforts on recruiting to the Bank, our own internal agency, which gives staff the opportunity to pick up more shifts and invites local people to work flexibly for the organisation, reducing our dependence on agency workers.

“We have also initiated a safer staffing programme, committing over £2 million on the recruitment and retention of staff in roles across the Trust and we have made good progress in filling vital positions, including in registered and unregistered nursing.

“What is clear though is that this is in the context of a national shortage of nursing staff and a very challenging environment for the workforce at this time.”

The hospital was asked how many nursing positions it was short of but declined to confirm this.

The total spend to agencies that provide nurses and doctors on short notice across the NHS was £3 billion. The figure represents a 20 per cent rise on the year before when the health service spent £2.4 billion.

Trusts spent a further £6 billion on bank staff - when NHS staff are paid to do temporary shifts - taking the total spent on additional staff to around £9.2 billion.

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Labour MP hopeful Heidi Alexander and Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting during a visit to Swindon's Great Western HospitalLabour MP hopeful Heidi Alexander and Labour's shadow health secretary Wes Streeting during a visit to Swindon's Great Western Hospital (Image: Labour)

Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for South Swindon, Heidi Alexander said: “Having visited the Great Western Hospital recently, I know how hard everyone is working and how much pressure the hospital is under. It’s not the staff’s fault or the management’s fault that we’re in this situation.

“Responsibility lies squarely with Government. Over the last 12 years, the Conservatives simply haven’t trained the nurses and medical staff we need. Our local MP, Robert Buckland voted to axe bursaries for student nurses six years ago and our hospital is now having to fork out huge sums of money to get agency workers in.

“Government needs to get a grip of the agencies that are making a killing out of this crisis and they need to adopt Labour’s fully costed and funded proposals to train the staff the NHS needs.”

Labour say they would aim to double the number of medical school places, create 10,000 new nursing and midwifery placements and double the number of district nurses qualifying each year, and pay for it by abolishing non-dom tax status.

Recently the Royal College of Nursing announced that its members have voted in favour of strike action over concerns with low pay and difficult working conditions.