NHS Trusts have been urged to adopt a “bank-first” approach to fill urgent staffing vacancies and to only use contracting and agency staff as a last resort. However, this advice rapidly came under fire from providers of flexible contracting health professionals for failing to recognise that the needed talent isn’t always available from NHS staffing banks.

Ian Dalton, CEO of NHS Improvement, the body charged with monitoring the efficiency of foundation trusts, NHS trusts, and independent providers of NHS-funded healthcare such as umbrella companies and recruitment agencies, said that £480 million could be released by adopting this measure. Filling these short-term vacancies with workers from a staffing bank is preferable, he said, to rely on “expensive” employment intermediaries.

Many NHS professionals choose to provide their services on a contracting basis, filling urgently needed short-term vacancies by working flexibly via umbrella companies, often recommended by specialist healthcare recruitment consultancies, rather than on-payroll. The claim that these employment intermediaries are being over-used and adding to greater costs was challenged by a number of agencies who spoke to Recruiter magazine.

Conceding that it was partially true that money could be saved by refraining from using “expensive staffing agencies”, Olivia Spruce, Chief Operating Officer at specialist recruiter Positive Healthcare, clarified that her own company’s profits were in fact, as a multiframework provider, modest and fixed. It did not qualify as an “expensive” option, she said, adding: “The ‘expensive’ agency options still lay within off-framework products, whereby these recruitment consultancies charge the NHS exorbitant fees in exchange for last-minute supply.”

A market had thereby been created in which numerous healthcare workers found they could earn considerably more by working for one of these off-framework agencies instead of for a framework agency on an NHS staffing bank, even though they were doing the same job.

She continues: “If the NHS refused to work with such agencies, healthcare workers would have very little choice than to join a framework agency or an NHS bank, creating a much leveller playing field and inevitably reducing spend.”

Meanwhile, Greg Wood, Director of specialist healthcare recruiter Your World Recruitment told Recruiter that a “bank-first” approach was already standard practice for most intermediaries. However, intermediaries remained crucial, as many of the staff provided by them simply aren’t available from NHS banks. The intermediary’s role, he explained, was to support the NHS and cover the bank deficits by providing skilled personnel at short notice for a time-limited period.

He agreed with the principle of using bank staff wherever possible but added: “in practice sometimes the trusts require specialist staff that are not available from their bank”.

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