Scotsman again acts as passive outlet for Tory misinformation as NHS Scotland spends only just over half the amount per head of population, as NHS England, on agency staff.


The Scottish government’s spending on agency staff for the NHS, in 2016/2017 was £171 million or £469 543 per day.

Here’s the Scotsman headline today and the full exposure to an evidence-free Tory rant:

‘NHS spent almost £500k a day on agency staff, report shows: The Conservatives said the figures, disclosed by Health Secretary Shona Robison in an answer to a parliamentary question from party health spokesman Miles Briggs, indicate the government has “failed” to ensure sufficient staff levels in the NHS. Miles Briggs said: “Agency staff are really important in our NHS as they are flexible and can fill short-term staffing gaps, as well as reducing waiting lists. However, the SNP mismanagement of the NHS has clearly led to a long-term reliance on agency staff at very high cost. These figures expose the utter hypocrisy of the SNP as it has consistently spoken against private involvement in the NHS whilst spending half a million pounds each day to agency staff. The SNP has totally failed to ensure that staffing levels in the NHS are sufficient, and with morale at rock bottom among doctors and nurses, this will only get worse. It’s time the SNP took responsibility for this situation, get on with the day job, and make sure our NHS has enough staff to function properly.” The figure is down £2.8 million on the previous financial year but has risen by around £76 million in a decade.’

 That’s a lot of free and rabid anti-SNP propaganda for nothing. Of course, it saves the Scotsman money too in labour costs.

Now, I know the Scotsman/Tory alliance doesn’t like whitabootery unless it serves their interests but whitaboot ‘context’ (see any guide to good journalism) so whitaboot England? I wrote on the very same issue last year, for 2014/2015, at:

Scottish Tories feed BBC Reporting Scotland with more distortions to mislead the public as NHS Scotland, under the SNP, massively reduces the cost of agency nurses and NHS England, under the Tories, loses control of mind-boggling costs.

However, it’s only right that I check the 2016/17 figures from NHS England. Well according to their own figures, NHS England spent ‘£250 million a month or £8.3 million per day’ in 2016/17.

Here we go again. England has almost exactly 10 times the population, yet NHS England is spending 17.67 times the amount on agency staff. It took me about 15 minutes to gather this contextual information. Are Scotsman writers too hard-pressed for even that?

As for the Tory rant, I leave you to marvel at its awesome fictional qualities and perhaps to calculate what percentage of the total NHS Scotland spend of over £13 billion was spent on agency staff. Oh OK, it’s 1.3%, a virtual privatisation of our NHS!


9 thoughts on “Scotsman again acts as passive outlet for Tory misinformation as NHS Scotland spends only just over half the amount per head of population, as NHS England, on agency staff.

  1. Alan Gordon February 10, 2018 / 11:06 am

    Thanks John, I’ll share this, if I may.
    “The price of freedom is constant vigilance”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gavin February 10, 2018 / 11:52 am

    I’m pretty sure that during Leveson, we learned that Scotland was in control of the regulation of the press.
    Since it looks highly unlikely that Leveson2 will go ahead, the Scottish government should propose a cross-party body to draft guidelines under which the media which operates in Scotland should be licenced. Yes, licenced. A naughty concept for those who assert “freedom” of the press. That would be freedom to mislead and misinform.
    The guidelines should be largely non-contentious, and include elements which any ethical journalist/editor can sign up to. Proprietors might object. They own and control media for a reason, after all. If they lost interest it would be a good thing for society.
    Truth, accuracy, corroboration. Journalistic independence. Special interests or conflict of interest to be identified as part of the reportage.
    Fairness, impartiality, balanced reporting. Adding context and perspective as an essential part of the job.
    There could be an element in the newspaper/journal/TV/radio output which is identified as operating under the ethical code. There could be another section, which could be headlined as “Opinion”, and which would just be one persons view of things.
    Regulating media so we can differentiate fact from half truth from fiction, should be a basic right in a functioning democracy.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Alasdair Macdonald February 10, 2018 / 11:59 am

    You have again debunked the ‘story’, by a simple contextualisation.

    The other thing is the sheer humbug of the Tories who are keen on ‘marketisation’, ‘outsourcing’ of NHS services. So, by that light, the Tories should be supporting the use of agency staff.

    The claim is that the marketisation will reduce costs and improve efficiency. Given these costs, it appears that the provision of agency staff is MORE expensive.

    Now the agency staff are to a very large extent trained by the public education system, so those running the agency have very little training costs, if any. Agency staff are not paid any more than permanent NHS staff or, the difference in pay is probably not significant, so, the surplus is going to those running the agency. This is pretty much rent-seeking behaviour.

    Before the privatisation/marketisation hegemony was established, the NHS would, probably have staffed to a higher level than at present to accommodate things like staff absences, in-service training, unforeseen contingencies. But, if you put accountants in executive positions and set accountancy criteria about cost efficiency, then such higher levels of staffing have to be moved off the Health Board balance sheet. So, agencies take up these staff, knowing that the NHS will need them. So, a new entry, such as ‘miscellaneous’ appears on the Health Board balance sheets to pay for these staff, and this has become considerably more ‘bloated’ than the previous staffing regime’s costs. Hence, there is ‘virement’ from other budget lines, like medicines, beds, ancillary staff, etc into payments to agencies to provide a service which the NHS is able to provide without the phoney accountancy criteria being imposed.

    Now, for a number of nurses, the flexibility to working hours which the agency services offer, suits their domestic arrangements. But there is no need for this to be privatised, There could be a publicly run, not-for-profit agency which supplies these nurses.

    The Tories are always whingeing about the need to ‘slash red tape’ and by that they mean things like conditions of work, employment protections, health and safety which have been put in place because they improve the service delivery and create a more satisfied workforce (despite the daily girning, which most working people engage in), but they put in place criteria – ‘blue’ tape, perhaps? – which have no real bearing on service delivery but require the NHS to deliver money to rent-seekers.

    By reducing the number of management staff with medical backgrounds and increasing those with accountancy/business management/financial management backgrounds, the classic goal displacement is fostered. The managers from a medical background will tend to give priority to patient centred delivery, the managers from other backgrounds will tend to look at the ‘health’ of balance sheets.

    Of course, the NHS has to be well managed and many of the non-health managers are committed to the service, and, on the whole the NHS provides a high level of patient (not customer) satisfaction. It can do things better, but all organisations need to do that.

    What we need is a more informed holistic debate rather than these pinprick attacks to break off bits of the service, so that eventually the main structure becomes shoogly and the privatisers then claim to be the saviours.

    Liked by 2 people

    • johnrobertson834 February 10, 2018 / 1:47 pm

      Thanks Alasdair. As you point out the Tories have no stable values.


  4. Alan Gordon February 10, 2018 / 2:33 pm

    This was my one and only experience of agency work, not NHS it was construction. 10 or so years ago I needed work, I signed up with a couple of agencies. I filled out their forms and very quickly, a couple of days, it was arranged for me to see the works foreman. I started work, after a week one of the foremen asked what I was being paid, it was something like £5.80 an hour, they were outraged. Told me to quit the agency and they would pay me, not the agency. The company were being invoiced something in the order of £14.60 an hour for me. I started working direct for the company, at £14.60 an hour, the agency were then looking for a finders fee from the company of £1000.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alasdair Macdonald February 10, 2018 / 3:59 pm

      Around 1970 I signed up for a company which organised gangs of construction workers to re-line the furnaces of steelworks when they were shut down over the holiday period. The work depended mainly on qualified bricklayers, who could work fast. There had to be some scaffolders. The rest of us were labourers who hacked off the old brickwork, shovelled out the slag and ash and then serviced the brickies as fast as we could.

      Without exception the brickies and scaffolders were men who were employed on other sites and, at the end of their shifts were taken to the steelworks, where they worked through the night and were then taken back to the site where they were registered as employed. The scaffolders were similar.

      The ‘black squad’ were on 12 hours on 12 hours off, but, sometimes, it was ‘suggested we work the following shift. So, on occasion, we worked 36 hours straight.

      We all had to ‘clock in’ on the steel company’s time clocks so that the payroll could be made up. The clocking in was actually carried out by the man who organised the team. On one occasion, he was called away urgently and told me to clock all the cards in. There were twice as many cards as there were workers! So, he was getting a fee for organising the team and he was also collecting wages for an equal sized team of ‘ghosts’. He had no tools – he used ones from the steel company and the brickies brought their own kit. I never found out how their pay was ‘processed’, but when they ‘knocked off’ they were given a wad of notes. There were no hard hats, gloves, dust masks, safety specs. Lighting inside the furnaces was minimal.

      In one week I earned as much as I would earn in a month in a job paying a wage at the national average. However, in that one week I would have had 7 standard 12 hour shifts and 2 extra 12 hour shifts – 108 hours! But, with time and a half for OT on 5 days and on the two extra shifts and double time on the other two days, I was paid for 146 hours – 3.65 ‘standard’ 40 hour weeks. So, I was not lavishly paid. Because the payroll for the steel company paid us, we paid tax and NI and were issued with P45s.

      However, the ‘agent’ in addition to his ‘fee’ also picked up 20 sets of wages for ‘ghosts’.

      This is what happens when ‘red tape’ is slashed.

      Liked by 2 people

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