Use of agency staff ‘demoralising’ for other nurses, says Hancock

Minister’s comments spark criticism over poor workforce planning that leads to shortages

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The health and social care secretary has described the use of agency staff as demoralising for NHS staff, sparking criticism from the RCN.

In a pre-recorded interview shown at the NHS Providers conference in Manchester yesterday, Matt Hancock vowed to clamp down on agency spending in the NHS, which he said can affect morale among full-time staff.

‘Shortsighted workforce planning’

But the RCN says the issue is a problem of the government’s own making, because its shortsighted workforce planning has lead to nursing vacancies, which force trusts to employ agency staff.

In the interview, Mr Hancock said that, apart from cost, one negative of agency staffing was its impact on staff morale. ‘If you are working at 3am on a nurse station and the person next to you is in this hospital for their first time, and therefore finds it very hard to do as good a job, and you’ve been there for years and they’re being paid several times more than you for the same shift, and they don’t have the responsibilities and can walk out of the door if it all gets a bit much – that is demoralising,’ he said.

The latest figures from NHS Improvement put agency spend for the NHS in England in 2017-18 at £2.4 billion.

This is down from £3.6 billion in 2015-16, when a cap was introduced on private agency worker costs.

No other option

Responding to Mr Hancock’s comments, RCN England director Tom Sandford said: ‘Reliance on large numbers of agency staff to fill the gaps in the NHS is unsustainable, and in some cases is driving trusts into the red.

‘But employers have little choice thanks to the shortsighted NHS workforce planning in recent years that has left tens of thousands of unfilled nurse jobs, to the severe detriment of patient care.’

Mr Sandford added that, regardless of whether they are full-time or agency staff, nurses want to do their best for patients, but said this was under threat due to chronic staff shortages.

In the same speech, Mr Hancock confirmed that the autumn release date of the government’s forthcoming social green paper has been delayed and said it will now be published before Christmas.

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