THE use of bank and agency staff has doubled at NHS Forth Valley over the past year, due to Covid-related absences.

According to statistics, the health board spent £2.3million on agency staff in the year ending March 31, 2023 – an increase of 102.1 per cent on the year before.

However, the figure is still much lower than in the past decade, having stood at £4.5m at the end of the 2015 financial year.

A spokesperson for NHS Forth Valley said they had, like all other health boards in Scotland, experienced an increase in agency costs during the pandemic due to high levels of related staff absences and sickness caused by Covid-19.

The spokesperson added: "This ensured we were able to maintain staffing levels and continue to provide vital health services.

"However, we continue to work hard to reduce spend on temporary agency staff by recruiting to permanent positions, wherever possible, investing in training and development to enable staff to take on new roles and responsibilities and growing our local staff bank to reduce reliance on external bank and agencies."

Indeed, as highlighted in last week's Advertiser, the health board recently welcomed physiotherapy recruits from overseas in one example.

Conservative MSP Alexander Stewart has branded the sum "eye-watering" but was challenged on the wider context by SNP MSP Keith Brown.

Mr Stewart said: "The seemingly unabated rise in spending on agency staff here is a shameful reflection on the SNP's dire workforce planning and management of our NHS.

"Locum doctors and agency staff do indeed play a key role in supporting health services and I commend them for the work they do."

He criticised the SNP for failing to recruit permanent staff, which has lead to a increasing reliance on agency workers.

"Every penny has to be a prisoner given the huge demand on services," he continued. "We just cannot afford to spend ever-increasing sums on agency staff."

However, Mr Brown, MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, blasted the Conservative for failing ignoring the impact of the UK Government's policies.

He told the Advertiser: "The Tories really need to put their figures into some kind of context and they know it.

"Not least the undermining impact of Brexit on the staffing challenges facing the NHS.

"The reality is that employment in NHS Scotland is at the highest level ever, with the number of individual staff employed up by 2 per cent on last year while the number of whole time equivalent (WTE) posts has grown by 3 per cent over the same period to just under 157,000.

"Nevertheless, there remains an important role for agency and bank staff in meeting short term employment needs and helping to address specific areas of pressure.

"Those working within our NHS, regardless of how they are recruited, do a fantastic job."