Nursing directors raise concerns about caps on agency spending at CNO summit

Nursing directors have said they are fearful about the effects of the latest caps on what trusts can spend on agency nurses.

Simon Stevens. Picture credit: John Houlihan

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told the chief nursing officer (CNO) for England's summit in Birmingham today (December 2) that tackling the high spend on agency nurses in the NHS is imperative.

The cost of using agency staff in the NHS rocketed from £1.8 billion to more than £3.5 billion in the past three years, according to the Department of Health.

Mr Stevens told the summit: ‘This cost is having difficult and disastrous consequences in some parts of the NHS.'

Caps on the hourly rates agencies can charge NHS trusts for nurses and other staff, as well as caps on the total amount trusts can spend on agency nursing, have been introduced.

But Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust director of nursing Helen Blanchard told the summit the caps are a worry.

She said: ‘We are in a scary position as directors of nursing – there are going to be consequences.’

Concerns about the caps have arisen because some trusts fear they will be unable to spend what they need to ensure safe staffing levels and prevent staff shortages.

Mr Stevens said the situation ‘cannot drift’ for the next six months and warned that reliance on agencies also meant unstable nursing teams.

‘We have got to convert that agency spending into permanent flexible nursing jobs,’ he said.

‘My message is we no longer have the luxury of not tackling this agency problem.’