Many nurses are costing the equivalent of £88 an hour, even more than criminal law barristers, according to independent research.
The NHS currently spends more than £350m on employing nurses from private agencies to fill the gaps in the health service.
Some NHS trusts are spending up to seven times more than they budgeted on agency nurses, with one trust spending more than £1,100 for a grade E nurse to do a 12-hour shift. A similarly qualified permanent nurse would normally earn between £18,800 and £22,725 a year.
East Kent Hospitals Trust, which runs five hospitals in Canterbury, Margate, Dover, Ashford and Folkestone, spent £2.5m on medical staffing agencies in its last financial year, according to The Daily Mail.
Many of the nurses are from overseas and can earn up to 30% more working for an agency than being paid directly by the NHS, with agencies offering more flexible “family-friendly” shifts.
Gerry O’Dwyer, employment relations adviser at the Royal College of Nursing, said staff shortages would keep private nursing agencies in business.
But a Department of Health spokesman said NHS spending on agency nurses fell by £65m between 2003 and 2004.