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Three quarters of English NHS trusts plan to recruit more nurses in next six months

King's Fund monitoring report indicates that trust finance directors have doubts about the extent to which controls on agency spending announced last month will actually limit costs.

Three quarters of NHS trusts in England intend to recruit more permanent nurses in the next six months despite rising financial pressures, according to a survey by The King’s Fund.

But 60 per cent of trust finance directors also said strict controls on agency spending announced last month by health secretary Jeremy Hunt will not significantly reduce the amount spent on agency staff.

In the past three years, spending by the NHS in England on agency staff has risen from £1.8 billion to £3.3 billion in 2014/15 and Mr Hunt ordered trusts in financial deficit to set a maximum hourly rate for agency nurses and doctors. 

Their spending on agency staff is also being capped.

Of NHS trust finance directors responding to a question on the agency spending controls in the survey, 59 out of 97 (60.8%) said the new controls will not significantly reduce their agency spend.

Reasons given included the importance of being able to fill short-term gaps in service with locums.

Eleven said the controls will reduce agency spend and 27 said they didn’t know.

Of 99 finance directors responding to a question on whether they are planning to increase the number of permanent nursing staff in the next six months, 75 (75.7%) said they were and 24 (24.3%) said no. 

As part of the quarterly monitoring report from The King’s Fund, 66% of trusts and 89% of acute trusts are forecasting a deficit this financial year – up from 25 per cent and 21 per cent respectively on the same quarter last year.

The King’s Fund’s chief economist John Appleby said: ‘There are considerable opportunities to make productivity improvements, but continuing to rely on top-down policy levers such as limiting staff pay increases and capping agency fees will not be sufficient. 

‘The most promising opportunities lie in changing clinical practice to deliver better outcomes at lower cost, something that can only be achieved by engaging NHS staff in a new mission to deliver better value.’

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'We are investing the £8 billion the NHS asked for to implement its own plan for the future, and are putting in place strict financial controls including clamping down on rip-off staffing agencies, which have been welcomed by senior NHS leaders.

'As this survey shows, the vast majority of hospitals intend to recruit more permanent nurses, improve productivity and prioritise patient care.'

NHS Confederation chief executive Rob Webster said: ‘Short-term initiatives around agency staff and capping pay will make a contribution to NHS finances but will not be the whole answer.

‘The NHS will need to explore all aspects of spending to tackle the big challenge of delivering £22 billion of recurrent savings by 2020. 

‘We are working with national bodies and other NHS partners over the summer to bring our members closer into the discussion and to understand how the NHS might close the finance gap set out in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.’

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