LOCUM doctor and agency staff costs have been lower in Gwent over the last three years than in any other health board area in Wales that provides acute services.

Figures obtained by the Welsh Conservatives show Aneurin Bevan University Health Board spent just over £13.4 million during 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13 combined on plugging staffing gaps among doctors’ and nursing rotas.

The biggest spender during in that period was Betsi Cadwalladr Health Board in North Wales, which spent £50.5 million.

Three health boards - Cardiff and Vale, Cwm Taf and Hywel Dda - spent £22 to £25 million each, while Abertawe Bro Morgannwg did not provide figures for 2010/11 but spent more than £19 million on locums and agency staff in the past two years.

Powys Health Board’s three-year spend was £324,402, but it has no major acute hospitals and deals with fewer patients than most of the others.

Health boards’ spending on locums and agency staff is not directly comparable for a range of reasons but the Aneurin Bevan figures would likely have been bigger but for an effort to drive down such costs in recent years.

An attempt by Gwent’s health board three years ago to impose a zero tolerance policy on the use of agency nursing staff was not successful due to the demands placed on acute hospitals, but it has helped keep their use to a below that of previous years.

In tandem, the health board sought to make more use of its own nursing ‘bank’ - using existing staff who wanted to work more shifts when required - instead of resorting to costlier agencies. It also recruited nurses.

The Welsh Conservatives, who obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information Act request, want locum and agency staff costs to be controlled.

Leader Andrew RT Davies AM called them “disturbingly high” and shadow minister for health Darren Millar AM called such spending “wasteful and inefficient.”

Both laid blamed the Welsh Government, for cutting rather than protecting NHS Wales budgets.

Welsh health boards have spent a little over £10 million on locums and agency staff during the first six months of 2013/14.

The Gwent figure for this period is almost £1.8 million.