The NHS managed to provide an unbroken, safely-staffed service during the Christmas festivities thanks in no small part to the contributions of contracting nurses and doctors and the recruiters who sourced and placed them, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has explained.

There is invariably a seasonal hike in hospital admissions over the Christmas break. Any corresponding shortfall in the number of doctors and nurses on hand to treat them would almost certainly threaten patient safety.

The winter period always witnesses a significant surge in demand for NHS and social care services. Yet increases in hospital admissions at this time of year are also accompanied by staff shortages at Christmas as many substantive staff take time off to be with their families and sickness absences increase.

As REC Policy Advisor Neal Suchak puts it, “It’s at this time of year that the health and care service really relies upon the vital lifeline provided by agency staff to deliver safe care to patients.”

Without the seasonal rise in the input of agency nurses and locum doctors, rota gaps over the Christmas period would be left unfilled, jeopardising ill and frail patients in need of hospital care. Rota gaps are, in fact, a perennial problem for the NHS, extending throughout the year, largely due to the current shortfall of more than 40,000 nurses and considerably more than 5,000 doctors in the NHS (as estimated by the Royal College of Nursing).

With this in mind, given that the number of people aged 65 and over is currently estimated to explode by 51% in England alone in 2030 in comparison to 2010 and that that one in three existing nurses are forecast to retire in the coming ten years, the need for contracting NHS professionals is becoming greater than ever. As, indeed, is the need to support and value them.

For its part, the REC has partnered closely with the Royal College of Nursing for some time, jointly producing a toolkit with the College in 2017 designed to help and support agency nurses. Entitled the “Healthy Workplace Toolkit for an Agency Workforce”, it amounts to a practical manual and check list for recruitment agencies and employers, enabling them to make sure that agency professionals are comprehensively supported at work.

Mr Suchak writes, “If government is committed to delivering a true 7 days a week, 365 days a year NHS, then it is going to have to work with agencies. Of course, costs must be controlled, and the REC will continue to work with NHS Improvement to develop flexible staffing models that work for all parties, that ultimately deliver the best outcomes for patients.”

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