The amount spent by the NHS on hiring agency staff to cover shifts increased to almost £1.3bn over the past two years, the Conservatives have revealed.
The total spent on agency staff has increased by 60% from the £786m spent in 2006/07 to £1.254bn in 2008/09, the Tories' figures have shown.
The increase could be linked to the high hourly wages paid to agency staff, which in some cases is 10 or more times the average staff pay for the same jobs. This includes £400 for a manager, £375 for a doctor and £146 for a nurse.
When the figures were announced in 2006/07, the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt said it was "common sense" to cut back on agency workers – however the amount spent has since increased.
The Conservatives said that the sums amounted to twice the annual budget for cancer drugs and almost as much as the NHS spends on maternity services.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said it was "unforgivable" that an estimated £300m of NHS money ended up in the pockets of the employment agencies who take a slice of the cash.
Many of the agency staff were paid at an hourly rate higher than the NHS chief executive, whose salary in 2008/09 was £225,000. Around one-third (34%) of spending on agency staff is on managers, administrators and clerical staff – up 324% in two years – while a fifth (22%) is on nurses.