“The NHS is in crisis. Thousands of trained health workers choose agency work for the flexibility, pay and variety, and to avoid burnout. Around three in four nursing vacancies are filled by temps. Our latest Report on Jobs shows that vacancies for permanent healthcare staff have now increased in each of the past 31 months. Temporary vacancies have also increased rapidly and more sharply than in any of the other monitored major sectors in the report, which include hospitality and retail.
“An NAO inquiry is long overdue and we would be keen to provide any data and insight to support the investigation. This must be wider than the suggested narrow look at exceptional cases of agency spend over bank holidays or peak times in demand. An inquiry should review how contingent staffing is provided and costed across the NHS and by different NHS trusts, including the use of staffing banks. It should review and consider the return on investment each staffing model brings to the sector and how wards respond to crisis levels of patient needs. Any inquiry needs to carefully weigh up patient care, safety alongside value for money to the taxpayer.
“In addition to an NAO investigation, what we desperately need now is a full and comprehensive workforce strategy for the entire NHS – it has been promised for some time now and is long overdue.
“It is difficult to argue that the agency fee is excessive when, for example, an agency fee on framework is capped at just over £2 out of an £18 hourly rate. And out of this margin, agencies pay a framework fee, train people and pay for their 24/7 operation.”
Commenting on speculation today that the Treasury is considering removing all numbers from a blueprint for training doctors and nurses over the next decade, Kate Shoesmith said:
“Hiding the detail around the number of NHS staff needed won’t help the NHS develop the comprehensive long-term workforce plan it needs to deliver adequate patient care and enable people to work. As we know many people are not in work due to poor health. No amount of fiddling at the edges of presentation will take away from the need for better working conditions and pay to improve retention and recruitment in this area.
“Urgent attention is needed to reform the way we staff the NHS. The staffing frameworks that are used to recruit staff into the NHS are not fit for purpose anymore and are not delivering value for money for the taxpayer. Recruiters see firsthand the issues that need to be reformed. Our calls to work with frameworks to improve things continue to go unheard. That is not good enough for patients or the hard-working staff in the NHS.”