Plans announced by NHS Improvement (NHSI) last month to prohibit trusts from using agency staff who simultaneously hold substantive posts in the NHS have now been suspended.
NHSI had intended the ban to deter doctors and nurses from using agencies and encourage them to take on additional overtime shifts through NHS banks themselves. Many agency nurses in the NHS currently undertake this additional work as Umbrella Company Employees and were clearly very unhappy about the ban.
The proposal was swiftly condemned by Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), who accused the Department of Health of “putting savings before patient safety.”
The REC’s own research indicated that 77 per cent of healthcare recruiters expected the candidates on their books to respond to the ban by prioritising work in the private sector in preference to the NHS. A study in February by the recruitment trade body found that NHS staff were deterred from using internal banks because of poor communication, antiquated payment procedures, inadequate management and poor professionalism in comparison with specialist agencies.
NHSI’s CEO, Jim Mackey, has now acknowledged in a letter that trusts have made major efforts to pare back on agency spending, reducing costs by £700 million this year alone.
The nursing workforce, he said, “has contributed the lion’s share” of the cost savings. Expressing gratitude for these efforts and the excellent care and devotion that nurses provide for patients on a daily basis, Mr Mackey said that the NHSI has listened and responded to feedback from nurses about the proposed ban on agencies for substantive staff.
The NHSI, he went on, is ’committed to getting it right for nurses and doctors alike” and wants to ensure that the system and manner in which staff can work is fair and equal. As a result, it is necessary to take more time to work with the sector. In a reference to forthcoming IR35 changes for professionals contracting in the public sector, Mr Mackey said that the NHSI “will be supporting trusts with the new tax rules.”
For the REC, Mr Green expressed delight that the NHSI has seen sense and suspended its hastily proposed ban, which, he said, risked plunging the NHS into chaos.
He added: “It’s the right thing to pause and think again, having listened to the feedback from us, our members and other stakeholders like the RCN, and to the voices of all the nurses and doctors who work so hard in the NHS, no matter what their employment status.
“We are committed to working with NHSI to help develop flexible staffing models for the NHS that ensure safety and sustainability for patients and workforces alike.”