Government plans to cap charges for NHS agency staff

 NHS spending on temporary staffing agencies will be capped to stop recruitment firms charging ‘rip off’ rates, health minister Jeremy Hunt has announced.

According to government figures, agencies can receive up to £3,700 per shift for doctors and up to £2,200 for nurses, while the total bill for management consultants was more than £600 million last year.

The Department of Health (DoH) said that in some examples, half of this cost was found to go to the agency itself, People Management reports.

The minister said ‘spiralling agency staff bills’ had cost the NHS £3.3 billion last year as he accused the firms involved of ‘ripping off’ the NHS.

In a bid to slash spending on temporary NHS workers, the government will set a maximum hourly rate for agency doctors and nurses, while NHS workforce planners will be banned from using agencies that do not adhere to approved pay frameworks.

“The path to safer, more compassionate care is the same as the path to lower costs,” Hunt said.

Agency rate caps will initially apply to nursing staff but will be phased in for other clinical, medical and management and administrative staff, the DoH said. However, capped rates will be reduced from the initial set level over time.

However, Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), said: “The language and tone from Jeremy Hunt is outrageous. Agency nurses play a vital role in ensuring safe staffing ratios and quality patient care in an NHS that cannot find sufficient permanent staff. He is scapegoating agencies for the NHS’s own mismanagement of workforce planning. Nobody objects to there being set parameters for pricing of agency staff, but they already exist in the form of NHS framework agreements.

“We just don’t see how it is feasible to bring in new rules at this short notice.”
Hadley said that REC was “disappointed” that the DoH had failed to consult over the new rules and he was waiting for more detail about how the government proposes to reconcile its plans with NHS trusts’ legal responsibility to ensure safe staffing levels on wards.

“What happens, for instance, if there is a cold snap and a trust needs staff instantly to manage an influx of demand but they have already reached their newly imposed cap on overall spend?” he asked.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “Patient safety is our absolute priority and it’s important to remember that agency staff are useful for ensuring continuity and quality of care. In controlled, smaller numbers agency and bank staff will have a long-term future helping the NHS respond to fluctuations in demand.”

But he added: “There is potential for NHS trusts to reduce spend on agency workers through further improvements in flexible working, technology and arrangements with local agencies.

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