New ban on agency staff will ‘remove a lifeline’ from the NHS

The NHS staffing crisis will get worse because of new measures to restrict trusts from hiring agency nurses and locum doctors who are also employed as substantive staff in the NHS, the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) has warned.

A recent survey of 199 healthcare recruitment businesses found that in 48 per cent of agencies, more than half of the temporary nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals on their books are also employed substantively in the NHS.

From 1 April, trusts will no longer be able to turn to these professionals to fill gaps in rotas. The move is designed to encourage nurses and doctors to seek overtime shifts via internal NHS banks, rather than agencies. However, according to REC research:

  • Seventy-seven per cent of healthcare recruiters expect the candidates on their books to prioritise finding work in the private sector rather than the NHS in response to the ban.
  • Fifty-six per cent expect some nurses and doctors to stop working additional shifts in the NHS altogether.
  • Only 18 per cent believe that some candidates will transfer to hospital banks for additional work.

Last month, REC research in partnership with the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found that substantive NHS staff are deterred from signing up to internal banks due to unreliable communication, old-fashioned payment procedures, poor management, and lack of professionalism in comparison to specialist agencies.

REC chief executive Kevin Green says:

“The Department of Health is putting savings before patient safety. NHS trusts up and down the country will not be able to cover shifts, putting patients at risk.

“The NHS is facing one of the worst ever staff shortages. The pay caps introduced last year have resulted in doctors and nurses choosing to work fewer shifts, go abroad, or to leave the sector altogether, meaning more gaps in rotas. Meanwhile, EU nurses are quitting in increasing numbers because the government has failed to provide any security about their future in the UK. This new ban will remove a lifeline and make a difficult situation worse.

“Costs must be controlled, and the REC is committed to working with NHS Improvement to develop flexible staffing models that work for all parties. However, now is not the time to make it more difficult and less attractive for doctors and nurses to take on additional shifts.”

Agency workers in the NHS accounted for 0.8 per cent of the total NHS employment in 2015.