NHS watchdogs set out agency staff spending cap

1 Sep 15

The NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor have issued new rules to reduce the amount the health service spends on agency staff.

The cost of agency staff to the NHS has increased and providers now spend around £3.3bn a year on agency staff. There is recognition that, with no national rules governing procurement, it can be difficult to secure best value on quality and cost.

The rules take forward a pledge made by health secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this year to limit to amount spent on agency staff. In June, Hunt accused staffing agencies of “ripping off” the NHS and ordered a crackdown on costs.

Under the new rules, trusts will be required to use the national framework when procuring agency staff. In particular, they set an annual ceiling for agency spend for each trust between the current financial year and 2018/19. Trusts are being informed of their individual ceilings today and will have an opportunity to apply for exceptions if they have specific local needs.

The rules also limit the amount individual agency staff can be paid per shift, although this cap will not come into the effect until later in the year.

Peter Blythin, director of nursing at the NHS Trust Development Authority said: “Whilst a number of existing local frameworks work well to support local nurse directors to find high quality agency staff, there is a recognition that more can be done to give trusts greater powers to have more control over their use of agency staff in the future.

“The creation of an assurance process to make sure local frameworks are providing high quality staff at the right price, the introduction of ceilings to ensure boards can have a focused programme on reducing over-reliance on agency staff where it exists and future measures to limit the inflated costs associated with some agency arrangements, will all help to ensure that local providers can, in future, be better equipped to focus on the important issues of high-quality staff and patient safety whilst becoming more efficient.”

Monitor nursing director Ruth May added the regulator was supporting foundation trusts to reduce their reliance on agency staff.

“We’ve worked hard with the NHS to develop this set of rules which will support boards and in particular chief nurses to reinvest the money currently spent on agency staff into providing the best care for patients.

“Today’s guidance is another step in delivering a safe and secure NHS that will meet the needs of patients long into the future.”

Responding to the announcement, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said: “We are hopeful that the new rules announced today will be implemented in a spirit of partnership, and with an appreciation that NHS providers must be empowered by the national bodies to deliver, rather than be told what to do.

“It will be important that Monitor and the TDA are supportive of providers that are having to make difficult decisions where there is a conflict between meeting national requirements on staffing levels, and complying with the new rules.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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