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Agency and permanent staff have a responsibility to ensure high standards when they work together, says Caroline Shuldham. 
Agency nurses

Agency and permanent staff have a responsibility to ensure high standards when they work together, says Caroline Shuldham

Nurses who work for agencies and on staff banks make an important contribution to patient care. However with the focus on the costs of temporary staff, particularly agency nurses in the NHS, it is easy to forget the valuable role such nurses play.

Coming into a service, often at short notice, they fill in where there are shortages thereby ensuring there are sufficient staff to provide care. And although it is better to have stable teams and individuals who are familiar with the place of work, patients, and the quality standards expected, the shortage of nurses means this is not always achieved.

Many nurses who undertake temporary assignments are excellent and have a remarkable ability to work in an unfamiliar organisation. Some have

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Agency and permanent staff have a responsibility to ensure high standards when they work together, says Caroline Shuldham

agency nurses
Picture: iStock

Nurses who work for agencies and on staff banks make an important contribution to patient care. However with the focus on the costs of temporary staff, particularly agency nurses in the NHS, it is easy to forget the valuable role such nurses play.

Coming into a service, often at short notice, they fill in where there are shortages thereby ensuring there are sufficient staff to provide care. And although it is better to have stable teams and individuals who are familiar with the place of work, patients, and the quality standards expected, the shortage of nurses means this is not always achieved.

Many nurses who undertake temporary assignments are excellent and have a remarkable ability to work in an unfamiliar organisation. Some have a permanent job elsewhere, others work for an agency or bank for the flexibility it provides.

Knowing the risks

But there are risks when nurses do not know the service and these need to be mitigated with good processes in the healthcare organisation such as documentation of care, comprehensive handovers between staff, as well as orientation to the setting, technology and emergency procedures.

Checks on nurses' qualifications, registration and criminal records bureau status by the manager provide assurance that the nurses are appropriately qualified for the role.

Nurses themselves should keep up to date, complete training, not work excessive hours and should work within their sphere of competence, making sure they have the skills, knowledge and experience for the commission they accept. They need to ask when they do not know something.

What can be done

Permanent staff should make the nurses feel welcomed in the team, provide supervision and help, and thank them for their work. But in cases of poor performance or where problems occur managers have to intervene promptly.

Care should not be compromised on financial grounds. The partnership between agency, nurse manager, and the clinical nurses should help to make certain that the benefits of engaging bank and agency nurses outweigh any risks.

Agency nurses should feel valued and in the best possible position to provide excellent care and keep patients safe at all times.


About the author

Caroline Shuldham is chair of the RCNi editorial advisory board. A former nursing director, she works independently advising on research, teaching and mentoring

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