EXPENDITURE caps will be brought in at Barnsley Hospital to reduce the amount of cash being spent on filling posts with agency staff – after a £6m annual cost was revealed.

A report into the hospital’s salary costs shows £161m was spent on its entire workforce in a year, but the amount which had to be paid to agency workers was more than £500,000 overbudget.

Overall, the total cost was £4.5m higher than anticipated, which hospital bosses blamed on Covid-19, additional winter capacity, sickness levels and ‘expensive agency costs’.

Agency pay rates are capped at 55 per cent above what a normal employee would receive but for nearly nine in ten agency shifts for doctors – and four in ten for nurses the caps were exceeded last year.

NHS bosses can only do this if there is a ‘significant risk’ to patient safety.

A report said: “The trust remains on track per its financial plan – in the year-to-date, total income at £217.6m is £3.95m favourable.

“The favourable variance is mainly due to higher-than-expected recharges, training and education income, and grant income from the capital de-carbonisation scheme.

“In the year-to-date, pay costs are £161m with an adverse variance of £4.5m against plan.

“This is due to the impact of Covid-19, the opening of additional winter capacity, higher levels of sickness absence, unachieved efficiency and expensive agency staff costs.

“For 2022/23, the trust has set an agency expenditure cap – £6m has been spent on agency, which is £0.56m above plan, and the forecast for the year has been amended to £1m above the cap.”

In April 2020, at the first ‘peak’ of the virus, Covid-related absence accounted for 19.5 per cent of total absences before steadily falling since.

However, with NHS vacancies at a record high and shifts a ‘struggle to fill’, trusts including Barnsley’s were forced to break framework agreements that cap their spending on agency staff rates – something they are only permitted to override in exceptional cases.

Analysis from the Labour Party suggests one in three NHS trusts paid an agency more than £1,000 for a single shift last year, while one in every six paid more than £2,000, due to a ‘perfect storm’ of rocketing demand and high absence levels.

A Barnsley Hospital spokesperson added: “Agency workers are very important as they help the NHS to maintain safe staffing levels.

“We have had an increased need for agency staff particularly over the winter period when we have seen much higher than anticipated pressures on our hospital.

“Whilst this is not ideal, at times it is unavoidable to keep our patients and our staff safe.

“Pressures on staffing relate to significantly high numbers of patients requiring hospital treatment for Covid, influenza and other respiratory illnesses – at the same time, relatively high numbers of our staff have themselves been off sick as winter infections circulate in the community.

“To support our people plan, we have recently run a number of successful recruitment campaigns which have increased the total number of staff directly employed at the hospital.”