A North Wales MS is calling for a new not-for-profit agency to be set up to provide staffing cover and save money for the NHS.
Llyr Gruffydd, who represents the region in the Senedd, spoke out after hearing Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), spent an “eye-watering” £48.8 million on agency and bank staff supplied by privately-run companies in 2021-22.
Mr Gruffydd argues that the current system for providing staffing cover is “contributing to the problem” and “worsening the crisis in the NHS”.
The radical proposal is part of a five-point plan published by Plaid Cymru to address the current crisis in the NHS.
New figures have shown that in total, the Welsh NHS spent an astonishing £260m on agency and bank staff in the last year in order to fill gaps in its rotas.
The only health board in Wales to spend more than BCUHB on agency and bank staff in 2021-22 was Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, which covers south-east Wales, with £57.5m.
Llyr Gruffydd MS said: “The current system for providing staffing cover to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board isn’t even penny wise, and it’s pound foolish to the tune of tens of millions.
“The money that is squandered on private fees could and should be invested in frontline services and in ensuring health workers get a fair and liveable wage.
“The latest figures are eye-watering and point to a deep structural problem in the NHS that the Welsh Government has completely failed to get a grip of.
“The current system is contributing to the problem and worsening the crisis in the NHS.
“Without root-and-branch reform to long-term workforce planning the health service will continue to disintegrate.
“The answer to this issue is to create a brand new not-for-profit agency to provide staffing cover. The Welsh Government has already accepted this principle in the education sector where Plaid Cymru has won the argument for a not-for-profit approach to supply teaching.
"This proposal would ensure that health workers in the Welsh NHS want to work more flexibly, with increased control over their own hours and work–life balance and the ability to choose where they live and what they do at work could continue to do so.
“But it would also bring the fees paid by health boards down to a fair, reasonable and sustainable level because it would do away with the need to provide private firms with bumper profits.”
The Plaid Cymru plan includes providing a fair deal for NHS workers to create the foundation for a sustainable health and care service, making the NHS an attractive place to work, and significantly elevating the prominence and priority given to preventative health measures.
It also advocates taking a sustainable approach to ensure a seamless service, and creating a resilient health and care service fit for the future.
Leader of Plaid Cymru, Adam Price MS, said: “There is a health crisis in Wales for which new thinking is required – a health crisis which Welsh Government cannot admit exists in the first place.
“But when ambulance response times and emergency department waiting times are at an all-time high, and workers are taking to the picket line over unfair pay and unsafe working conditions, then the question has to be asked: If this isn’t a crisis, then how much worse are they expecting it to get?
“I’ve said before that no one party has a monopoly on good ideas, but when the Tories offer privatisation, and Labour offer nothing, then Plaid Cymru is the one group in the Senedd offering practical solutions to the very real problems we’re facing in Wales.
“There is so much that needs to be done following two decades of Labour mis-management, but our plan offers five things that we believe will make a real and positive difference to everyone across the health service – front line workers, patients and those that administer it.”
Plaid Cymru’s spokesperson for health and care, Rhun ap Iorwerth MS, said: “Plaid Cymru’s proposals get to the heart of the issue. NHS workers are the bedrock of our health service but that foundation has been shaken by years of real terms pay cuts and lack of adequate workforce planning. Paying them a fair wage has to be at the start of the process and that’s why it’s the first point in our plan. Without our health and care workers, we have no NHS.
“Of course, the scale of the challenge means we could just as easily create a 25-point plan, but we’ve focused on five things that we believe can make a real difference.
“As well as the immediate difference that fair pay and adequate workforce planning will bring, there are also things Welsh Government should be doing better for the long-term. One example is preventative health care.
“This shouldn’t just be something mentioned once in passing from the Health Minister, but a core and explicit aim of all government policy and fully aligned with the Well-Being of Future Generations Act.
“These aren’t our ideas, but the result of listening to the people on the front line and the organisations that represent them. Our plan addresses the real concerns they have with the way the health service is currently being managed and offers five deliverable steps that will make a tangible difference to all involved.”