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Trust overpaid staff by £1.1m

Published on: 15 Jul 2022

A trust overpaid staff by more than £1m last year and spent £6m on temporary staff in its corporate division, after admin cuts left its HR department underpowered

South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust has an annual wage bill of £234m but spent £1.1m on overpayments in 2021-22, it said, with an estimated £300,000 so far this year. Two-thirds of this financial year’s total was incurred in May, the latest date for which the trust has released data, which is a record high.

The mental health trust said the overpayments were a mixture of wages paid to staff who accepted a job offer and then did not take it up, plus staff who left but then continued to be paid. It is not known how much of the overspend will be written off, rather than successfully reclaimed.

The trust is also considering an outright ban on the use of agency staff in its corporate directorate.

Like many trusts, SLAM has to spend a lot on agency staff to fill gaps in its nursing and medical workforce but last financial year its spend on agency staff in its corporate division – ie teams not directly providing clinical services – was £6m.

The trust’s joint highest spending directorate on agency staff was its Croydon services, which also has the worst vacancy rate. Croydon, one of four boroughs the trust serves, is significantly underfunded by south west London commissioners compared to its other boroughs, which come under south east London commissioners.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “South London and Maudsley’s HR and OD recovery programme is under way to help address these issues and like many others trusts across the country, we are actively looking to reduce any unnecessary spend as part of being an effective and sustainable organisation.”

A report to the trust’s board said the root causes were “minimal accountability for managers not processing [the] leavers form promptly” and “limited HR capacity”.

HSJ understands the trust’s administrative staff were cut back in efficiency programmes over recent years.

The trust has an overall vacancy rate of 21 per cent, which it described as “excessive”. The overall number of vacancies in London’s mental health sector increased from 4,694 in quarter four of 2018-19 to 6,597 in quarter four of 2021-22.

The London average vacancy rate for mental health trusts is 14 per cent, the highest rate in England and nearly double the best performing region, North East and Yorkshire which has just 7.4 per cent. The overall vacancy rate for NHS organisations is 7.9 per cent but in London it is 10.9 per cent .

The SLAM report said the “recruitment team has been staffed with temporary resources due to short-term uplifts in posts, which has impacted on stability and quality of service”.

The trust is designing a new HR structure.