Hourly cap on agency rates will 'drive professionals out of the NHS'

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation has said caps on how much agencies can charge per hour to supply the NHS with nurses and other staff will cause skilled professionals to leave the health service

The cap on how much agencies can charge NHS trusts for nurses and other staff will ‘drive skilled professionals out of the NHS and make the current staff shortages even worse’, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has said. 

From today (Monday), price caps will be applied to all NHS trusts, NHS foundation trusts receiving support from the Department of Health, and NHS foundation trusts in breach of their licence for financial reasons. 

The trusts will not be able to pay an agency more than twice the basic substantive hourly rate for a nurse. 

This will reduce to no more than 75% above the basic rate from February and no more than 55% above the basic rate from April. 

Trust spending on agency staff has been rising and is a ‘significant driver behind the deterioration in NHS providers’ finances’, according to the Department of Health. 

But it is not right to cut the pay of agency nurses and other NHS staff providing ‘crucial front line services to NHS patients’, said Tom Hadley, director of policy at REC, the largest trade body within the UK recruitment industry.

He said: ‘We recognise that costs must be managed, but the focus should be on better workforce planning as well as attracting and retaining more people to work in the NHS. 

‘These plans have not been thought through and are being rushed in at the worst time of year. 

‘Well managed, flexible working arrangements, which have been used in the NHS for decades, enable peaks in demand and staff shortages to be dealt with seamlessly so patients get the high quality health care they deserve.’

Mr Hadley added that it is wrong to think agency staff will ‘clamour’ to return to the NHS as permanent employees.

He predicted that some will go to work overseas, some will move to the private sector where the caps do not apply, and others will leave health care altogether. 

The government has already introduced an annual ceiling on how much trusts can spend in total on agency nursing.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the controls will help the NHS ‘improve continuity of care for patients and invest in the front line, while putting an end to the days of unscrupulous companies charging up to £3,500 a shift for a doctor’.


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