NHS spends £480m on agency staff

31 Aug 18

The NHS’s reliance on agency staff cost £480m last year, a health watchdog has revealed.

To curb agency expenditure, NHS Improvement has set trusts in England a target of reducing agency costs by 17% for 2018-19.

The watchdog said temporary staff, including doctors and nurses from agencies, cost on average 20% more than those from the NHS’s own ‘staff banks’ who do the same job.

NHS staff banks tend to be made up of workers who already employed by a trust and have agreed to work flexible shifts.

In one case, an agency has been charging £480 per hour for the services of one consultant, instead of £76 for a consultant from an NHS staff bank.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “We want trusts to take a bank first approach and only use agency staff as a last resort.

“Temporary agency workers play an important role in ensuring staffing number remain at a level that provides the best possible care for patients and gives them a the opportunity to work flexibly.

“But an over-reliance on high cost private agencies when there are other options available is not good for patients or for the NHS’s finances.”

NHS Improvement has urged trusts to build up their bank staff thereby reducing the need for agency workers.

The watchdog said there was a financial incentive as bank staff are cheaper, while more bank staff will also increase the likelihood of a patient being treated by the same healthcare professional throughout their care.

NHS Improvement noted that, since the NHS put a cap on the amount trusts can spend on agency staff in 2015, it has cut its spend by £1.2bn.

In 2017-18, spending on bank staff was higher than for agency for the first time in several years, creating a £528m reduction in agency spending.

Miriam Deakin. deputy director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said trusts had made a “tremendous effort”.

She added: “Temporary staff continue to play an important role in the NHS staffing mix, but we urgently need a long-term approach to staffing that is underpinned by a comprehensive workforce strategy.”

Data recently revealed that improved bed blocking rates has saved the NHS £60m.

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