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»Figures have shown a rocketing bill for temporary staff for the health trust that provides social care, community services and mental health in the borough. It will be £13m this year – £10m more than five years ago.

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The increase in spending has come despite chiefs saying they want to save a quarter of the area’s NHS budget over four years.

NHS South West Essex said in 2011 that it would aim to save £184m over the next four years.

However, figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the Recorder show spending by the South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (SEPT) on temporary and agency staff has risen since 2008/9.

The trust spent £27,731,230 on hiring staff through employment agencies between 2008/9 and 2011/12.

Beds

SEPT closed 36 beds at mental health units in south west Essex, including Brentwood, in 2011 as part of NHS South West Essex’s plans to cut its annual budget. Despite this, SEPT expects to spend £13,546,308 on agency staff in 2012/13.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “This is a huge amount of money to spend on employment agencies at a time when every penny of the health budget needs to be focused on the front line.

“If the trust is forking out so much on these external agencies it begs the question: What is the HR department doing?

“This bill has risen rapidly at a time of necessary spending cuts. The trust need to reduce this spending and quickly.”

A spokesman for SEPT said: “Whilst the trust makes every effort to minimise use of agency in order to keep costs low, it may still remain necessary to engage agency staff in difficult-to-recruit clinical areas such as for medical staff where essential cover is needed at short notice.

“The organisational changes faced by the NHS as a whole, including by SEPT, means agency staff are used in some cases as a temporary measure to aid job security in the longer term by avoiding making new permanent appointments and thus holding vacancies into which staff affected by change can potentially be redeployed.”

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