Jane Bates: you are wrong about agency nurses, Mr Health Secretary

Agency nurses don't demoralise NHS staff – it's the sheer lack of nurses that's the problem

Agency nurses don't demoralise NHS staff – it's the sheer lack of nurses that's the problem

Picture: iStock

It’s one thing stepping into a frightening unknown, quite another wearing a dodgy outfit while you are doing it.

Petrifying and ridiculous – that sums up my year as an agency nurse. It’s a scary way to earn a living: new hospitals, new situations, new people to work alongside, although I got lucky and had several long-term placements.

Oh yes, the dodgy outfit. I am five foot tall and a size eight but the only uniform the agency had, I kid you not, was extra large. Not only was it voluminous, it was long – if I had bumped into a Dalek it would have greeted me as one of its own.

It meant that whenever I started a new job my obstetric credentials had to be established – no, I’m not expecting twins. Then there were the explanations – this is the only dress on offer; no, they won’t allow me to alter it; yes, I do feel silly, which sort of broke the ice. Or maybe people were afraid I would suddenly rasp ‘exterminate!’ if they didn't humour me.

Permanent staff are only too glad of the support 

But contrary to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock’s assertion that costly agency nurses are resented by full-time staff, I was always welcomed with open arms, tinged with desperation. Certainly not antipathy – the very opposite.  

And he can rest assured that all hands-on nurses are as impoverished as each other; agency nurses are expensive only because the money goes to the agencies. He should get his facts right.

Is he being disingenuous and seeking to divide and rule? Whatever his motive, this ill-informed comment missed the point everyone is weary of making – that there are not enough nurses and the outlook is dire.

Mr Hancock would do better to concentrate his energies on urgent issues like retention and recruitment, not ones that exist entirely in his imagination.


Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire



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