Restrictions on NHS spending on agency workers introduced in November last year are already deterring contracting medical professionals from filling temporary vacancies, new data from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) suggests.

73 per cent of healthcare recruiters report struggling to find contracting doctors and nurses willing to take temporary roles, while 80 per cent are only able to fill around half of the requests coming from NHS trusts. The cause is a fall in the number of doctors and nurses who are prepared to occupy temporary roles in NHS wards.

A new round of spending restrictions is scheduled to kick in on Monday 1st February. 67 per cent of the recruiters polled plan to shift their focus away from the NHS to private healthcare.

Kevin Green, CEO of the REC, said: “We warned the government that rushing in these caps would exacerbate the staffing crisis faced by the NHS and that is exactly what is happening. Experienced doctors and nurses are choosing to work for private healthcare providers, seeking opportunities abroad, or changing careers altogether to maintain their salary and flexibility.”

The NHS remains bad at attracting and retaining permanent staff, making it heavily dependent on temporary professionals, Mr Green said. Ominously, he reported that four in ten of the agencies polled had taken calls from permanent NHS employees seeking to quit their jobs and start contracting as Umbrella Company Employees or agency staff.

Mr Green expressed serious concern about the effects further restrictions on spending will have, including the prospect that patients will suffer.

The NHS spent just 2.9 per cent of its overall annual expenditure on agency staff in 2014/15.

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