NHS hospitals have paid hourly rates as high as £120 for agency workers, including nurses, consultants and managers, to fill staffing gaps over the past year, according to figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The payments included a rate of £121.59 an hour paid for a nurse in a Berkshire hospital, £100 an hour for a human resources manager in Blackburn and £96.75 an hour for a GP in Wolverhampton.

The sums, details of which were obtained by the Conservative Party, form part of a bill for NHS agency staff which totalled £1.18 billion in 2005/06, the last year for which the Department of Health has released figures. The total was down from the £1.45 billion recorded in 2003/04, but more than double the £540 million spent in 1997.

Average hourly pay rates for NHS employees are £15.66 for a nurse, £24.14 for a junior doctor and £60.31 for a consultant, based on the 37.5-hour standard working week, said the Tories.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Labour's chaotic, short-term planning has let down NHS staff. Some stability for them is the least we would have expected from the billions that the Government has poured into the NHS.

"It's incredible that agency staff can be paid such high hourly rates when jobs are being cut at the same time. This is typical of the waste that's occurred under this Government." The Conservatives submitted requests to NHS trusts last November to reveal the highest hourly rate paid to an agency worker over the previous 12 months.

The highest figure produced for clinical staff was £121.59 an hour for a nurse at the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, followed by £121.10 for a nurse at Chesterfield and Royal Hospital NHS Trust and £111.96 for a nurse at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust.

Highest hourly rate for a non-clinical worker was £119 for a turnaround director at Coventry Teaching Primary Care Trust, followed by £110 for financial staff at Heatherwood and Wrexham Park Hospitals NHS Trust and £106.66 for a director of healthcare and procurement at Havering PCT.

But some trusts appeared to have kept agency costs more strictly under control over the 12-month period. Bath and North East Somerset PCT said the most it paid was £31.15 per hour for a nurse, while the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Trust's most expensive agency worker was a temporary deputy finance director at £33.33 an hour.

Average NHS staff pay for a nurse is currently £30,531 a year, for a junior doctor £47,073 and for a consultant £117,610, according to Department of Health figures.

Temporary staff are employed across the NHS to meet fluctuations in activity levels and to cover vacancies and short-term absences. Trusts obtain temporary workers from their own nursing bank, from private agencies or from the NHS-run temporary staffing service NHS Professionals.

A 2007 report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said: "Properly managed, temporary nurses play an important role in helping hospitals achieve flexibility.

"Excessive use can be costly, particularly when trusts are heavily reliant on agency nurses. High use of temporary nurses can also have a negative impact on patient care and satisfaction."