The Royal College of Nursing is raising concerns about patient care after a sharp rise in the use of agency nurses at Great Western Hospital.
Some wards have increased the amount spent on agency staff by more than 100 per cent in the last year.
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that the amount spent on qualified agency nurses across all hospitals run by Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust increased from £1.29m in 2011 to £1.78m in 2012.
Great Western Hospital accounts for the majority of the increase, with one area – Escalation, which enables the hospital to deal wit fluctuations in demand and capacity – seeing the costs increase almost tenfold from £22,495 to £201,830.
Other hikes include £22,730 to £91,323 in Mercury Ward, £67,280 to £101,064 in Neptune Ward, and £72,319 to £159,399 in Saturn Ward.
The trust says the increase in agency nurses was to cope with a rise in demand this winter on wards, which provide a range of emergency care to patients.
However, it has also revealed plans to recruit more directly-employed nurses to reduce the figures.
Andrew Christaki, the regional officer for Wiltshire and Dorset at the Royal College of Nursing, which represents nurses, said he was aware that several hospitals had increased agency nurses, and was pleased GWH was doing something to meet demand – but he also had significant concerns.
He said: “It’s not a surprise but it’s a concern because obviously there’s questions I would be asking around consistency and the care standard patients receive.
“Because, if you are changing your nursing staff on a regular basis we would be concerned about consistency of care.
“And also agency usage in wards: Agencies sometimes come in and don’t understand the ward, and that puts pressure on people who are in charge of the ward.”
Oonagh Fitzgerald, the trust’s director of workforce and education, said: “We recognise that it’s preferable to employ substantive staff and our new nursing strategy sets out a commitment to increase the number of substantive nursing staff across the trust.
“When there are shortages due to staff absence or if a patient needs one-to-one care, it is important we can bring agency staff, who are qualified nurses and have the skills and experience to support the ward.
“Within the trust we have our own internal agency, which we call the temporary staffing bank.
“These are staff who are fully trained and familiar with our wards and departments, but enjoy the variety of working in different locations.
“We utilise these staff wherever they are needed across the trust and we want to recruit more people to our own staffing bank.”