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Treating the symptoms and not the cause
NHS spending on Agency staff in £billions has grown from £1.1 in 2009-10 to an estimated £4.1 in 2015-16.
The Secretary of State for Health, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, publicly addressed this in 2015 with some attention grabbing headlines, stating “it's time to crack down on rip-off NHS agencies”.
In a joint report published by The Department of Health and The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP of the same year https://www.gov.uk/government/news/clampdown-on-staffing-agencies-charging-nhs-extortionate-rates it was revealed that as part of NHS efficiencies a clamp down on the use of agencies was required to control these spiralling costs.
It was also revealed that the NHS is paying some agencies up to £3,500 per shift for doctors. In actual fact, the cost of locum doctors to the NHS was nearer some £3.1 billion, which is at parity with the financial over spend in the financial year end 2015.
Newly published guidelines have been made very clear to NHS organisations by The Regulator to organisations looking to appoint staff on both an interim and an agency basis. That said, I would argue that tackling inflated agency costs merely treats the symptoms and not the underlying causes of the problem.
Effectively addressing the growing agency bill will only be achieved if the NHS can address the shortage in permanent staffing. Whilst I know many NHS Executives have welcomed action, the evidence suggests that the methods which were embarked upon 12 months ago have not controlled the costs at all because they have since increased.
The work on safer staffing as a result of The Francis Inquiry into the failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust have been suspended (is this sensible) so what message is the government and The Regulator now sending - are NHS Trusts now to focus on cost rather than quality?
The shortage of nursing has been known for some time – this is not a new dilemma – in fact, The Centre for Workforce Intelligence predicted a shortfall of over 47,000 nurses by 2016 in the year 2013 and given bursaries have now been removed for all new University entrants and with the introduction of restrictions of attracting talent from outside of the EU, I think this is a worsening crisis, not an improving one!
This is not a sustainable position.
The growing agency bill will only be reduced if the NHS can address the shortage in permanent staffing and until that happens; it is like driving a car whilst the wheels are falling off.
Sarah Lovell, Partner