UNDERSTAFFED Basildon Hospital has spent nearly £3million on agency nurses in just one year.

The hospital racked up a £2.9million bill between April 1 2012 and March 31 2013.

It compares to spending a total of £3.3million in nearly two years between January 2011 and December 2012 to plug the gaps in its nursing staff levels.

Understaffing was highlighted as one of the reasons why Basildon Hospital was put in special measures in July, but chief executive Clare Panniker is committed to reducing the hospital’s reliance on agency staff to ensure better quality of care for patients.

Cure the NHS Basildon campaigner Tracey Webster, said: “It sounds an extortionate amount, but I am glad Clare Panniker is addressing the staff shortage and hopefully this money will now go towards permanent staff rather than bank staff.

“Because this has been going on for years the hospital has been left to rot – it’s been spend spend spend on agency staff.

“We would always prefer the hospital takes full-time or even part-time nurses rather than bank staff. It doesn’t work. The communication isn’t always there because they are not working as part of a permanent team – they are here today and gone tomorrow.

“With permanent staff, whether they are full or parttime, they can communicate.”

However, the hospital is working on reducing its spend for the future by investing £1.8million to recruit 200 more nurses and 50 health care assistants.

It has cast its net to Spain and the Philippines to fill the shortfall, and so far 60 nurses have been recruited from Spain.

Diane Sarkar, director of nursing said: “Filling our nursing vacancies with permanent staff means we can improve the continuity and quality of care to our patients, and improve staff morale and team working. It also means we can reduce our reliance on agency staff.

“To ensure we have the capacity to care for people who need hospital treatment this winter, we have invested in 200 additional nursing staff and 67 more beds.”

Increasing bed capacity is being achieved by building a new 28-bed inpatient ward to cope with extra winter demands.

Over the next two weeks floor coverings, wiring and cabling, medical gases and items such as soap dispensers and paper towel dispensers are being fitted. It is due to be finished by the end of November.

Work will then begin next week to convert the hospital’s old intensive care unit into a 14 bed ward, due to open in mid- December.