A new analysis by Liaison, the organisation that delivers workforce and financial solutions to two-thirds of the NHS, has found that the health service is continuing to struggle to enforce hourly pay caps for temporary staff. Fifty-six per cent of unsocial shifts and 85 per cent of core shifts are routinely exceeding the prescribed limits.

The study examined the second phase of the centrally imposed pay caps, which began in February this year. The aim of the caps was to limit the hourly amount that NHS trusts could pay temporary staff of all types, from locum doctors to nurses contracting through Umbrella Companies to non-clinical personnel.

Extrapolating from the 56 trusts in Liaison’s study sample, English NHS trusts overspent by approximately £26.6m on temporary staff between 1st  February and 31st March – an interval of just nine weeks.

Liaison’s Managing Director, Andrew Armitage, said that while some of the data was encouraging, many trusts were still obviously struggling to negotiate lower pay rates for some categories of locum, especially in regions where the availability of temporary/contracting staff is more limited in supply.

He added: “Perhaps surprisingly, London based trusts continue to pay lower rates for Consultants, averaging £94.22 per hour, compared to trusts in the South West paying an average rate of £110 per hour. On 1st   April, NHS Improvement set a capped hourly rate of £76.10 for a Consultant, so there is a huge challenge ahead for trusts to close this gap.”

He went on to declare that Liaison is committed to helping the NHS gain control over their temporary staffing bill and is able to provide the NHS with broader information about the agency staffing picture, as it is already working with a large number of trusts and boards. There is now, he said, “a real opportunity for trusts to collaboratively work together to achieve better results, and we’re pleased to be able to facilitate that.”

This month, the Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies, insisted that the NHS’s temporary pay bill difficulties were not related to “rip off agencies,” as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and NHS England’s CEO Simon Stephens had implied last year. The NHS, she said, was simply unable to recruit enough permanent nurses and was rightly prioritising patient safety.

In agreement with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), she stated that the problem was a workforce planning issue. In April, the REC condemned the pay caps as “myopic and ill-conceived,” insisting that they would simply deter much-needed independent medical professionals from working in the NHS and encourage then to take their skills into the private sector.

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