By Kirsty Topping
HEALTH chiefs paid the equivalent of 95,000 a year for an agency nurse, it emerged today (Wed).
NHS Orkney shelled out 364 a shift, more than 4.5 times the starting salary of a nurse directly employed by the health service.
The payments are considerably more than the 74,000 basic salary of a surgeon and even that of First Minister Alex Salmond who earns 80,224 a year.
NHS Orkney said the agency nurse was employed last year to work 114 shifts at an undisclosed hospital.
The cost of employing the nurse for just over five months was 41,527.16. The annual salary of an NHS nurse at the bottom of the pay scale is 21,000.
Two years ago, the figures reveal, NHS Orkney spent 78,000 for 209 shifts involving two agency nurses.
The use of agency nurses in the Scottish NHS has been enormously controversial in recent years.
The figures, obtained under Freedom of Information, show many NHS boards have managed to cut use, although it remains high.
Overall, more than 4m was spent on agency nurses across Scotland last year.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde spent almost 2m employing 264 agency nurses although that is less than a third of the 900 they employed three years ago.
NHS Lothian spent nearly 1.2 million.
NHS Fife managed one of the biggest cuts in numbers from 1039 to just 152 between 2009 and 2010.The Health Boardrecorded 42,000expenditurefor hiring agency staff in 2010 and 179,000 was spent in 2009.
Both NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Dumfries and Galloway axed spending on outside staff completely and did not take on agency nurses at all in 2010/2011.
71,545 was splurged by NHS Lanarkshire in 2009-2010 with agency nurses working 597 shifts but as of this year no shifts have been given to agency nurses and no money has been spent. By contrast, NHS Dumfries and Galloway spent 4,421 in 2009-2010 but has axed spending on agency staff in 2010-2011.
NHS Tayside has spent 103,000 hiring agency nurses in the years 2010-2011 compared to 152,000 spent in 2009-2010.
There were 700 shifts worked by agency nurses in Tayside during2009-2010 and 365 were worked in 2010-2011.
In 2009-2010 NHS Grampian spent 440,635 on agency nurses and 10,187 was spent in 2010-2011.
NHS Shetland has spent 68,382 from 2010 until February2011 employing agency staff and 129,635 was spent in 2009-2010.
The amount of shifts worked by agency nurses was not provided but in 2009-2010 11 agency nurses were employed by NHS Shetland and in 2010-2011 eight were employed.
NHS Forth Valley has managed to cut down from the 1.55million it blew on agency staff in 2006 but still recorded 283,000 spent in 2009-2010 and 90,000 in 2010-2011.
In 2009-2010 NHS Borders spent 194,459 and 276,635 in 2010-2011.
A spokeswoman for NHS Orkney said: “NHS Orkney can advise that the high expenditure reported on agency nursing staff was incurred due to the requirement to have an experienced member of staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to provide any aspect of emergency or routine cover to a remote island community within the NHS Orkney Board area.
“This is where a single health professional is the only clinical presence on an island.
“The geographical remoteness of island communities is such that NHS Orkney incurs significant expenditure to provide this level of emergency care.
“NHS Orkney uses agency cover (fees are paid to an agency, not individuals) as a last resort and will always look internally to provide cover at minimum cost.
”However, it is not always possible to secure a staff member to work away from home on a remote island.”