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Hunt calls for NHS clampdown on 'extortionate' agency staff costs

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt moves to limit NHS trusts' spending on staff agencies and management consultants

NHS trusts in financial difficulty will be expected to cap their spending on agency staff, under plans announced today by health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Jeremy Hunt

There will be a maximum hourly rate for agency doctors and nurses and NHS employers in England will be banned from using agencies that have not been approved. A cap on total agency spending for each NHS trust in financial difficulty will be phased in over the next few months. Seventy-seven out of 152 foundation trusts ended 2014/15 in deficit. 

The regulators Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) will work with each trust to set a spending level.

Mr Hunt said staffing agencies are charging extortionate rates and the NHS should come together to take on agencies and make every penny count.

He said: ‘Expensive staffing agencies are quite simply ripping off the NHS,' said Mr Hunt. 'It is outrageous taxpayers are being taken for a ride by companies charging up to £3,500 a shift for a doctor. The NHS is bigger than all of these companies, so we’ll use that bargaining power to drive down rates and beat them at their own game.’

The Department of Health said it wants to see hospitals employing more permanent staff, because the cost of using agency staff has risen from £1.8 billion to £3.3 billion in three years to help correct understaffing on wards. 

Mr Hunt also announced plans to limit trusts' use of management consultants and to achieve a shift towards collective negotiations with suppliers.

An immediate measure has been introduced that requires trusts to seek specific approval from either Monitor or the TDA for any consultancy contracts worth more than £50,000. Trusts that need to exceed this figure would have to seek the permission of their regulator.

Mr Hunt said: ‘The path to safer, more compassionate care is the same as the path to lower costs.'

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer welcomed the announcement, saying: ‘Patient safety is our absolute priority and it is important to remember agency staff are useful for ensuring continuity and quality of care. In controlled, smaller numbers agency and bank staff will have a long-term future helping the NHS respond to fluctuations in demand.

‘There is potential to reduce spending on agency workers through further improvements in flexible working, technology and arrangements with local agencies.’

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