Warning over unfilled shifts under new agency rules

Many shifts could remain unfilled after restrictions on NHS staff doing agency work are introduced, early survey results suggest.
Unfilled shifts

Huge numbers of nursing shifts could remain unfilled after restrictions on agency staff use are introduced, preliminary results of a survey suggest.

Unfilled shifts
Many NHS staff who currently work agency shifts told the survey they will not switch to
their trust’s staff bank or work overtime instead.

The survey examined nurses’ attitudes to changes from 1 April barring most NHS trusts in England from employing agency staff if they already have substantive contracts with the NHS.

The NHS Improvement (NHSI) measure is designed to cut spending on agency staff, and means nurses who want to work extra hours will have to join their trust’s staff bank or work overtime.

Earnings hit

But more than 80% of nurses currently doing agency shifts to supplement income from a substantive post told the survey they will not increase their trust hours. Many are angry that their earnings will fall, and some said they would leave the NHS.

The online survey, which was set up by agency nurse Bridget Catterall, had received 980 responses by 29 March.

Preliminary results of the survey, which is still open, reveal that 90% of respondents have a substantive post, and of those 52% do additional hours for an agency.

When taken alongside the 82.5% who do not plan to switch from agency to bank working, it follows that large numbers of nursing shifts could reamin unfilled, said Ms Catterall.

‘This is going to cause huge rota gaps,’ she added.

‘It will put remaining nurses under much more pressure and will have a huge impact on patient safety. Many people are not prepared to work for a bank because they get paid less than when they work for an agency.’

One survey respondent said: ‘No-one should be able to dictate how I spend my free time. If I had a decent rate of pay I wouldn’t have to work bank shifts.’

Some respondents threatened to ignore the new rule. One said: ‘Unless I’m mistaken, I didn’t sign a contract that imposes these restrictions. I will continue to work for agencies outside my trust and am not worried about being sacked.’

‘Bypassing controls’

NHSI has said some trusts are trying to bypass agency controls by setting up staff banks and allowing workers, including permanent staff, to be paid through personal service companies and limited liability partnerships. This will no longer be permitted under the changes.

NHSI chief executive Jim Mackey said: ‘We expect these new measures to take another big chunk out of excessive agency costs; there are far too many agency staff making the most out of the lower tax rates paid via personal service companies and limited liability partnerships.

‘This is a key part of the problem of so many staff choosing to work as agency staff instead of NHS staff.

‘These new rules will make sure most agency staff get paid and taxed in the same way as their NHS staff colleagues. This will make it fairer and more attractive for people to become permanent NHS staff, which is great news for hospitals and patients.’

Take part in the survey here

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