Health chiefs in Forth Valley saw their bill for hiring temporary staff soar 20-fold in just 12 months.
Figures show that the health authority’s spending on agency nurses rocketed from £14,000 in 2011/12 to £274,000 the following year.
However, bosses said the huge increase in spending could have been caused by specialist-trained staff going off sick or on maternity leave leading to a need to call on the services of agency nurses.
Across Scotland, health boards spent almost £60 million hiring temporary doctors and nurses, up more than 25 per cent on the previous year.
The move has come under fire from patients groups, who have accused boards of wasting money they should spend hiring permanent staff. However, ministers said the NHS had more employees than seven years ago.
Dr Jean Turner, executive director of Scotland Patients Association, said: “It’s economically inefficient to keep buying in locums and agency nurses because they are a lot more expensive than your permanent staff and NHS bank nurses.”
Health Minister Alex Neil previously said that the number of people employed in Scotland’s NHS had increased six per cent under the current Scottish Government.
He said: “I know how important it is that we have the right number of staff in the right place at the right time to provide the best possible care for patients.
“That is why we now have mandatory nursing workforce planning tools in place across Scotland, and these are working well in helping health boards plan for the number of staff they require.”
A spokesperson for NHS Forth Valley said: “In many cases it may be necessary to use locum medical and nursing staff to cover sick leave or to provide maternity cover. Locum agency staff may also be used on a temporary basis to provide cover until full-time staff are able to take up post.
“In NHS Forth Valley we only use agency nursing for specialist care which might not be available through our nursing bank.”
At the February board meeting of NHS Forth Valley, chief executive Jane Grant told members that there had been some improvement in meeting absence targets but “the overall position lacks consistency”. She added the situation was “challenging”.