Overwork and resource cuts driving public sector staff into agency work

20 Feb 17

Public sector staff who move from permanent roles to agency work mainly do so due to concerns over insufficient resources and unmanageable workloads rather than in an effort to increase pay, a review has found.

Following increasing concern about the cost of agency workers to the public sector, particularly in the NHS and schools, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research was commissioned by the Office of Manpower Economics to consider why staff are moving to agency posts.

Today’s report concluded that that staff were being ‘pushed’ into agency work by concerns about deteriorating job quality, rather than ‘pulled’ by the opportunity to earn more.

Agency use will persist as employer demand outstrips supply, the report said. Research found that public sector employers recognise the concerns around the costs of agency staff and the potential impact on the quality of services, but find themselves using them as a last resort in response to underlying staffing issues.
In the NHS the report noted that, although restrictions on agency spending had succeeded in cutting overall spending on agency staff, it has failed to address underlying staff concerns about deteriorating job quality.

Nathan Hudson-Sharp, report co-author and NIESR researcher, said spending caps on agency staff only addressed the symptoms of the problem.
“What they fail to do is tackle the underlining issue of demand continuing to outstrip supply,” he stated.

“The future of agency working in the NHS would therefore seem to rest on implementing an approach that is much more comprehensive, and that would enable NHS employers to address underlining issues around staff shortages, training, workforce planning, recruitment and retention.”

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