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'We could not function without agency staff,' nurse tells conference

Theatre nurse says recruiting and supporting NHS staff is the only way to end over-reliance on agency workers

A Stockport theatre nurse told delegates at Unison's health conference in Brighton this week that her department could not operate without agency staff. 

During a debate on agency staffing, Jo O’Brien gave an insight into how dependent some trusts are on agency workers, a trend the government has attempted to curb by introducing spending limits.

Ms O'Brien said: ‘My department has become increasingly reliant on agency nurses to deliver a basic level of care.’

She said she had represented two of the union's members who were agency workers, and who left her workplace because of work-related stress. 

‘While the government is saying we shouldn’t be reliant on agency staff, without them my department couldn’t run,' Ms O'Brien said. 

‘We should be recruiting and actively supporting staff with Agenda for Change contracts and not over-relying on and abusing agency staff.’ 

Unison greater London region member Mike Davey told the conference: ‘We have to support Unison branches and regions to look at alternative ways to fill the skills gaps in their organisations.’

Limits on the hourly rate that can be paid to agency nurses and on total agency staff spending by NHS trusts that are in financial difficulty were introduced by the government last year, among other measures.

But research published by healthcare recruitment agency MSI Group last month found that only 4% of 150 acute and mental health trusts in England complied fully with the government guidelines, and 90% exceeded the agency pay caps.

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