More than £1.3billion has been spent on agency staff in Welsh health boards over the last five years, FOI data has revealed.

In total £836.8million has been used on medical agency staff and nursing, midwifery and nursing assistants by Wales' seven health boards over a period stretching from 2016 to 2021.

A further £501.9million was spent on bank staff during the same period, figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives show.

Read more: The seven huge problems that show how much pressure the NHS in Wales faces right now

Agency nurses are typically brought in by health boards across Wales to fill gaps in rotas due to high vacancy rates or sickness levels. Meanwhile, bank staff are used as a less expensive, alternative mode of flexible workers who want to work in the NHS when there is a need for temporary staff at times of increased patient demand or higher sickness rates.

Of all the health boards, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in north Wales saw the highest total five-year spend on agency staff at £189,760,375.72 - compared to the lowest spends at Powys Teaching Health Board at £24,872,965 and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board at £98,797,704.

But it was Gwent-based Aneurin Bevan University Health Board that saw the biggest increase in agency costs in 2020 to 2021 when compared to the year before, with a jump from £26,770,401.12 to £40,617,112.52.

During the five year period, spending jumped as the coronavirus pandemic hit Wales. Total agency spend across Wales totalled £219,308,111.48 between 2021 and 2020, compared to £188,504,315.98 between 2019 and 2020.

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Last year Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board spent the most on agency staff across the Welsh health boards, coming in at £44,239,267.

When it comes to spend on bank staff, it was Aneurin Bevan and Cardiff and Vale University Health Boards that saw the biggest totals over five years, coming in at £111,751,799.78 and £97,201,847 respectively.

The lowest spenders were Powys Teaching Health Board, at £10,415,380, and Swansea Bay University Health Board, at £40,460,227.

Last year bank spend between 2020 and 2021 was highest at Cardiff and Vale University Health Board at £55,328,496 - followed by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board at £29,118,722.11.

In July figures showed that more than 12,000 cases of coronavirus had been recorded among hospital staff in Wales since the pandemic began. Figures obtained through a freedom of information request from WalesOnline have shown that 12,060 cases of Covid-19 among health workers in Welsh health boards were recorded between March 1, 2020, and May 17, 2021. This equates to about 18.2% of all staff employed at the five of Wales' seven health boards which responded. You can read more about that here.

Both Hywel Dda and Cardiff and Vale University Health Boards did not provide figures as they did not hold the information centrally. While some health boards simply reported the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases among staff, differences in how each health board record staff illness meant that in some cases the figures did not correspond to a confirmed case.

Meanwhile, last month health boards across Wales warned they were experiencing a rise in the number of NHS staff either contracting Covid-19 or having to self-isolate as cases of the Delta variant rose. Some shared concerns that a drop in workforce numbers was putting an added pressure on services which were already stretched to their limits by the dual problem of coronavirus and restarting routine care.

Responding to the findings, Shadow Health Minister Russell George MS, said: “This country’s leaders venerate our healthcare workforce, but these figures show they do not have the inclination to invest in that workforce. We need a ‘Recruit, Train, Retain’ strategy in place that includes greater flexibility for NHS staff, which will help prevent burnout and reliance on agencies.

“Sadly, the Welsh Government’s current programme is missing real teeth in meeting its purpose. Being so dependent on temporary staff is not a sign of a well-functioning NHS and demonstrates a problem in planning and management.

“To solve this issue, we must understand what’s causing it. One answer I hear time and time again is that Wales is not an attractive place to live when it is so poorly run from the centre in Cardiff Bay.

“For strong public services, we need a strong economy but Labour’s record on these fronts go far in explaining why there are staff shortages across NHS Wales.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our NHS currently employs historically high numbers of staff and the highest number of clinical staff in training.

“We recently published a plan to help the NHS recover from Covid, which will be backed by an extra £1bn over this Senedd term. Supporting the NHS workforce and increasing capacity is a key element of that plan and we remain committed to providing the NHS with the workforce it needs supported by our successful Train, Work, Live campaign.”

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