SPENDING on temporary agency staff at a hospital trust has risen to its second highest level ever, according to new figures.

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust which runs the county’s mental health and community services, revealed almost 20 per cent of its pay roll was on temporary staff as of December last year.

Like other NHS trusts, Oxford Health has struggled to fill front line vacancies and has been forced to use the more expensive temporary staff to keep beds open and the system running.

In December 2018 the trust spent £3.78m on temporary staffing, an increase of £614,000 from November and more than a £400,000 increase on the same time the year before.

The only time the trust has spent more on agency staff was in March last year when it spent £3.96m.

The figure is significantly above the ceiling set by regulator NHS Improvement works to help NHS trusts gain an even financial footing.

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In a recent board meeting chief executive Stuart Bell said a sustained rise in demand across both mental health and community services was also to blame.

He said: “In order to maximise the number of community hospital beds available across Oxfordshire to support system colleagues in managing winter pressures it has been necessary to use high cost agency nursing staff; that level of response is not sustainable other than in the short term.”

Hospitals in Oxfordshire have been battling a retention and recruitment crisis for a number of years now with the high cost of living cited as a major barrier to holding onto existing staff and bringing in new recruits.

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There have since been calls for the government to implement an Oxford weighting to NHS pay, similar to that seen in London.

A spokesman for Oxford Health said: “Recruiting and retaining skilled staff is an issue nationally for the NHS, and the high cost of living and proximity to London means recruiters in Oxford face a special challenge.

“We have seen significant increases in demand for all of our services across mental health and community teams and are working with our staff and their representatives to make sure we maximise our ability to address this.

“We are working hard to make Oxford Health an even more attractive place for people to work by offering more apprenticeships, excellent training and development opportunities, and innovations such as an in-house flexible working staff bank which has led to a reduction in our use of agency staff, although usage is still higher than we would like.

“We are proud of the adaptability and commitment shown by our existing staff who are working hard to meet demand and provide exceptional care for our service users.”

Earlier this week it was revealed that mental health in Oxfordshire will be getting a long-term funding boost after health chiefs accepted that the sector had been underfunded for years.

Chief executive of Oxford Health, Stuart Bell said the improved funding would allow the trust to address the shortage of staff and increase capacity of the services.