Agencies that supply staff to the NHS have responded angrily to accusations that they are ‘ripping off’ the public health service.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on the BBC over the weekend, Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, admitted that he felt hospitals were ‘over-spending’ on staffing, and placed the blame firmly at the door of agencies that supply temporary staff, claiming that they needed to convert agency spending into ‘good, paying, permanent jobs.’
In a statement released on Monday, Tom Hadley, Director of Policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, the professional body for the recruitment industry in the UK, firmly refuted Stevens’ claim.
“Agencies are not ‘ripping off’ the NHS, said Hadley, “The overwhelming majority of NHS trusts manage their agency spend through framework agreements which cap prices. Rates are negotiated by central government and recruitment agencies must adhere to them. By not acknowledging the existence of these agreements, and that it is trusts who sometimes decide not to operate through them, it almost sounds like Sir Simon is trying to make our members scapegoats for the financial difficulties some parts of the NHS are finding themselves in.”
Hadley went on to suggest that the NHS and the Government might want to look at themselves and their own practices before casting blame towards the recruitment industry.
“Poor workforce planning has left the NHS short of nurses, and although they are advertising they can’t find people willing to take on jobs as permanent employees. They then turn to agencies that can provide nurses at the last minute or on short to medium term contracts to ensure safe staffing levels are maintained.”
According to Hadley, working conditions and pay within the NHS over recent years has led to more nursing and medical professionals to opt for agency work that offers them greater flexibility and control over their hours, lessening the impact their work has on their family and home lives.
“What he (Stevens) doesn’t mention is that many agency nurses have previously had long careers as NHS employees but, because of pay freezes, poor management and inflexible schedules, have decided it suits them better to seek work via agencies who can help them find shifts that fit round their family life and allow them to work where and when they choose.”
“Pay will vary depending on experience and skill set but generally speaking a Band 5 agency nurse will earn £20-£25 per hour and an agency will charge a fee to the trust of between 10-20 per cent to cover the costs of finding, vetting and supplying the skilled nurses they need.”
In response to Simon Stevens’ claims on Sunday and a statement by health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday on controlling spending on agency staff, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said:
“We welcome this focus on the agency market. Clearly we await further detail regarding the announcements from the secretary of state and Simon Stevens.
“Patient safety is our absolute priority and it’s important to remember that agency staff are useful for ensuring continuity and quality of care. In controlled, smaller numbers agency and bank staff will have a long-term future helping the NHS respond to fluctuations in demand.
“There is potential for NHS trusts to reduce spend on agency workers through further improvements in flexible working, technology and arrangements with local agencies.
“In the short-term NHS trusts will sometimes need to recruit permanent staff from other countries. This is a responsible approach to recruitment and will need continued support from the Government and other bodies.”