Dorset County Hospital has come under fire for spending an ‘astonishing’ £14million employing temporary staff over the past three years.

Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request by the Dorset Echo show that from September, 2008 to August, 2009, the hospital spent a total of £5,814,334 employing doctors and nurses from outside agencies.

That included medical locums, medical agencies, staff from the NHS nurse bank and nursing agencies.

The figure was up more than £750,000 from the previous 12 months and over £2,500,000 up from the year before that.

A regional spokesman for Unison, the public sector workers’ union, said: “These figures are astonishing.

“We all know that employing staff through an agency is an expensive option because the agency has to get its cut too.

“We believe that, other than in exceptional circumstances, it would be much more cost effective to have a full complement of NHS staff, rather than employing costly agency staff to fulfil any shortfalls.”

Over the last 12 months the hospital spent around £800,000 on medical locum services, more than £2.2million on medical agency fees, around £1.7million employing staff from the nurse bank and just over £1million on nursing agency fees.

The trust’s annual report shows that a total of £91,374,000 was spent on staff costs for the financial year ending in March 2009, including that spent on agency staff.

Derek Julian, a governor of the hospital’s foundation trust, described the agency staff expenditure as ‘shocking’.

He said: “No wonder the hospital is in financial trouble. The NHS quite frankly needs a bomb put under it – it’s public money and they think it’s a bottomless pot.

“I know that patients say to me that it’s more beneficial if they have regular staff who know what their needs are.”

Richard Drax, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for South Dorset, said: “Clearly, the figure of nearly £6million is disappointing, especially as it’s risen from just over £3million only two years ago.

“But I understand from a source at the hospital that a number of difficulties have contributed to this large expenditure on agency staff, not least the problem of recruiting nurses over the past two years. To a large extent, hospitals – like all other businesses – are becoming increasingly tied up in red tape and bureaucracy, although the rising cost of agency staff is of great concern, and one I hope the hospital can address.”

The trust recently revealed it had made a loss of £1.83million in 2008/9 financial year and in his annual report chairman Robin SeQueira cited a reliance on agency staff as one of the aspects that needed to be ‘urgently addressed’.

The trust has been told it could lose its foundation status if massive savings, believed to be as much as £8million, are not achieved over the next 18 months.

Dorset County Hospital’s director of human resources Tracey Peters said: “We are constantly reviewing our staffing levels and need to maintain flexibility to respond to demands on our services.

“We are pleased that our monthly spend on temporary staff has been reducing steadily each month since the end of last year as this has been a key focus for us.”