The final round of caps on agency spending in the NHS is to be rolled out to cover ambulance trusts and ambulance foundation trusts from today.
Meanwhile, the Government has been urged by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) to adopt a more comprehensive approach to controlling NHS spending rather than continuing with measures that have been largely unsuccessful.
Pay rates for locum doctors and nurses contracting in the NHS via Umbrella Companies have been progressively capped since November last year so that they reflect the pay of permanent, substantive staff.
The REC’s Head of Policy & Public Affairs, Kate Shoesmith, however, notes that the results of these caps have been mixed, to say the least. Almost eight in ten (79 per cent) of healthcare recruitment agencies told the REC in an April survey that the NHS trusts they work with were forced to breach the caps routinely because patient safety would be jeopardised unless they did.
The same survey by the REC revealed that the overwhelming majority of healthcare recruiters had really struggled to source staff after the introduction of the caps.
Ms Shoesmith expressed the REC’s concern that these issues are only going to worsen now that the caps are being extended to ambulance trusts as well.
For example, healthcare agency Medicnow specialises in supplying paramedics to ambulance trusts. Its MD, David Cranmer, said that pressures on the NHS would only be exacerbated without properly trained and vetted ambulance professionals contracting on an on-demand basis.
“We want to pay paramedics a good wage and provide a good service to patients, and we would hate to see these caps get in the way of that” MD at Medicnow, David Cranmer, said. As with other parts of the healthcare sector, there is an “acute shortage” of paramedics. Mr Cranmer went on to say that “caps and controls on agency pay will only serve to drive more ambulance professionals away from working in the NHS via Medicnow into the private sector.”
He continued: “The caps will do nothing to reduce the bills faced by the NHS as they will need to bridge demand by engaging private ambulance providers to maintain service levels.” Expenditure on frontline private ambulance provision has risen to £68.7 million, more than three times the amount spent in 2011/12, yet this provision will not be subject to these caps.
Ms Shoesmith declared that the emphasis should now be on attracting new entrants into nursing as a profession of choice, training adequate numbers of health professionals each year and reforming internal work processes to retain staff.