A cap on spending on NHS agency staff

A cap on spending on NHS agency staff has come into force in England on Monday 23 November 2015, which aims to save £1bn over the next three years.

These financial controls will help the NHS reduce agency staff bills which reportedly cost the NHS £3.3 billion last year, more than the cost of all that year’s 22 million Accident and Emergency (A&E) admissions combined.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“For too long staffing agencies have been able to rip off the NHS by charging extortionate hourly rates which cost billions of pounds a year and undermine staff working hard to deliver high-quality care. The tough new controls on spending that we’re putting in place will help the NHS improve continuity of care for patients and invest in the frontline – while putting an end to the days of unscrupulous companies charging up to £3,500 a shift for a doctor.”

Chief Inspector of Hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, said:

“Introducing the cap on the amount trusts pay agencies for staff is the right thing to do. I welcome the fact that this is being phased in, allowing staff and trusts time to adjust and minimising any risks to patient safety. Close monitoring will allow us to assess the impact on individual trusts.CQCs will work closely with NHS Improvement to ensure ongoing patient safety.”

NHS trusts have reportedly been misusing agency staff as a solution to the new staffing levels required by Francis. The shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, claims some of these rising costs can be attributed to staffing cuts in the last parliament and a fall in the number of nurse training places in England.

Since the Frances Inquiry report, a spotlight has been shone on safe staffing levels, particularly in hospitals. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) have since released a safe staffing guidance in England, which sets standards in staffing, stressed that the NHS needs a strong, readily available nursing workforce more than ever to continue to meet the guidelines and ensure patient safety.

Linda Levison, Head of Clinical Negligence at Pattinson & Brewer said:

“It is worrying that with the caps on agency and the latest Government budget news on the NHS, there has been no mention of increased funding for frontline staff. The combination in a reduction of staff due to agency fee caps, cuts on bursaries for student nurses and the reduction of foreign nurses, could spell disaster for our NHS if it is not married with an increased commitment to fund further staffing .”

Although this is not intended to be a punishment for agency staff, but for the private businesses making millions from the NHS system, we can only hope that our NHS does see devastating long term effects by clarifying how these savings will be spent on improving the service for patients.

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