11 million hours of paid overtime required to bail out Scotland’s NHS

By Jim Bell

Staff shortages in Scotland’s NHS have led to workers carrying out almost 11 million hours of paid overtime during the last five years.

The figures, collated by the Scottish Conservatives via a series of Freedom of Information requests, reveal a total overtime bill of nearly £230 million between 2017/18 and 2021/22.

And the stats almost certainly underestimate the extent of the health service’s reliance on staff working extra hours to plug the workforce gaps, because they don’t include unpaid overtime and one health board – NHS Forth Valley – failed to provide data.

The dependency on paid overtime is also increasing, year on year, on three separate measurements – the number of staff working overtime, the total number of hours worked and the annual bill.

In 2017/18, 29,420 NHS staff worked a total of 1.9 million extra hours, at a cost of £36.3 million. By 2021/22, this had risen to 45,047 staff working 2.5 million extra hours, at a cost of £57 million.

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the ‘staggering’ figures laid bare the consequences of the SNP Government’s appalling workforce planning, and the enormous pressure it places on dedicated but overstretched staff.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, said: “These staggering figures highlight the enormous toll the SNP’s mismanagement of the NHS is taking on heroic but shattered frontline staff.

“Most of the crises in Scotland’s health service stem from personnel shortages – whether it’s the enormous backlogs patients face for treatments or operations, excessive delays to be seen in A&E wards or difficulties booking a GP appointment.

“In nursing alone, there are over 6,000 vacancies in Scotland.

“The blame for this mess lies with the awful workforce planning of successive SNP Health Secretaries, which has left Scotland’s NHS on its knees.

“It’s a measure of the dedication and professionalism of frontline staff that they are willing to work extra hours to help patients – and, remember, these figures don’t include the huge amount of unpaid overtime staff undertake on a regular basis.

“But it’s not a sustainable or fair way to run our NHS – not least because it risks staff burnout.

“The bottom line is the SNP need to reverse years of failure by ensuring more trained frontline staff come through to properly resource our health service.

“That can’t happen overnight, but they could start by following Scottish Conservative calls to lift the cap on the number of funded places for Scottish students in medical-related courses at our universities.”

Over the last five years, NHS Boards have spent over nearly £230 million on overtime payments. Over that time, the amount spent on overtime has increased by nearly 57.1% from £36,262,447.75 to £56,971,612.43

Over the last years, NHS staff have undertaken nearly 11 million hours of overtime. In total, 10,867,979 hours have been undertaken by NHS staff over the last five financial years. This only includes paid overtime – unpaid overtime is not recorded – so the true number is likely to be far higher.

The number of staff undertaking overtime has increased by more than 50% in five years. In 2017/18, the number of staff undertaking overtime was 29,420. In 2021/22, that number had increased to 45,047, an increase of 53.1%

There are over 6,000 nursing vacancies in NHS Scotland. The number of nursing and midwifery vacancies has increased over the past year by 38.1% to 6,209 Whole Time Equivalent posts. The vacancy rate also increased to 8.7% over the same period. (NHS Education for Scotland, NHS Scotland Workforce, 7 June 2022, link).

Approximately 15,000 NHS workers left the service in the year to March 2022 — the highest number in at least a decade. In the year ending 31 March 2022, the number of leavers increased by 65.8% to 11,838.4 WTE. The number of leavers on permanent contracts increased by 43.5% to 10,947.7 WTE and on fixed-term contracts by 167.9% to 5,300.8 WTE respectively. (NHS Education for Scotland, NHS Scotland Workforce, 7 June 2022, link).

Total spend on agency locums and on nursing and midwifery agency/ bank staff soared by 30% in a year to £423 million. In the year ending 31 March 2022, total spend was £423.4 million. This is made up of £89 million on nursing and midwifery agency staff, £232 million on nursing and midwifery bank staff and £102 million on medical and dental agency locums. (TURAS Data Intelligence, NHS Scotland workforce, bank and agency dashboard, 7 June 2022, link).

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