Save on agency nurses, says RCN

6 Sep 01
The government should plug the nursing recruitment gap rather than spend increasing amounts of money on temporary staff, the Royal College of Nursing argued this week.

07 September 2001

Responding to an Audit Commission report that showed health service spending on temporary nurses had leapt 20% to £810m last year, the RCN said ministers must take long-term action to improve staffing levels.

It wants higher levels of pay introduced to recruit and retain more staff, claiming there is a shortfall of 20,000 NHS nurses.

This is the same figure as the number of temporary nurses the commission claims is used every day in hospitals across England and Wales to shore up staff shortages.

'We cannot ignore the link between the high costs of temporary nursing staff and the current level of nurse vacancies. £810m is clearly too large a price for the NHS to be paying for temporary staff,' said Beverly Malone, RCN general secretary.

Recruitment of full-time staff could save money, as it costs trusts 5% more on average to employ temporary nurses recruited from agencies or the NHS's own bank of part-time staff. One in seven trusts pays at least £4 per hour more for non-agency staff.

Switching to become a temporary member of staff can also increase a nurse's wage by between 20% and 100% – an attractive option when experienced staff nurses earn around £18,000.

The government's response was to announce on the day the commission's report was published, September 4, that an in-house recruitment agency, NHS Professionals, would soon begin work.

However, Brief encounters, the commission's report, argued that the 'long-term aim' should be to reduce the demand for temporary staffing. 'The current arrangements for temporary staff don't offer value for money,' said Dr Ian Seccombe, the report's author.

These financial costs could in rare cases carry a human cost, said Sir Andrew Foster, the Audit Commission controller, because adequate pre-employment checks on qualifications and criminal records were not always completed. Foster said this was undermining the 'contract' between the NHS and patients. 'There is an important issue about what the patient has the right to expect.'

The commission also calls for a greater use of IT. Only one in five trusts uses software to match staff and shift patterns.


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