Tackle the causes of agency spending, RCN tells the government

RCN general secretary Peter Carter says lack of investment in nurse training and cuts to nurse numbers are to blame for the spiralling use of agency professionals

The RCN has welcomed health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s measures to cut NHS spending on agency staff, but is calling for greater focus on reasons for the reliance on temporary nurses.

Mr Hunt declared there will be a clampdown on the money paid by the NHS to staff agencies and announced the introduction of a maximum hourly rate for agency doctors and nurses. He said a locally set cap on agency spending would be placed on trusts in financial difficulty.

In response, RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘The NHS can’t continue spending so much money on short-term staffing so it is right to focus on getting better value for money, and to improving the continuity of care, which is better for patients.

‘The health service needs to focus on the cause of this problem, not just the symptoms. A lack of investment in nurse training and cuts to nurse numbers mean trusts now have no choice but to pay over the odds for agency staff and to recruit overseas.’

He called for further detail on how a maximum rate will be set and whether it will vary according to location and experience. He added any cap on spending must not prevent employers from providing safe staffing levels when there are no alternatives.

Dr Carter said permanent staff should be rewarded and valued. ‘It is right to clamp down on excessive spending but this will only work alongside longer-term solutions, like converting agency staff to permanent staff, and continuing to increase training places to catch up with demand,' he said.


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