Trade unions are seeking urgent talks with a Scottish trust after it signed a multi-million pound contract with a private company to supply nurses and healthcare assistants - despite the fact that ministers have urged trusts only to use agencies as a last resort.

Jim Devine, Unison's head of health, has condemned North Glasgow University Hospitals trust for signing a three-year deal with Scotnursing, a nursing and care agency, to provide cover for some of the city's largest hospitals.

Mr Devine said that 'Our policy is to resist the widespread use of agency nurses in the NHS. Several million pounds' worth over three years sounds like widespread use.

'What the NHS needs at the moment is continuity of service and that can only come from proper full-time nursing posts.'

The trust says that the decision to sign the agreement with Scotnursing came after a review of services.

The review concluded that a deal with one agency would be better than deals with several, as had previously been the case.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Executive confirmed that trusts had been encouraged to use agency staff only as a last resort.

In England and Wales, the NHS has launched a pilot national nursing bank, NHS Professionals.