Renewed efforts to cut the use of agency nurses are being hampered by problems recruiting permanent staff in and around London, senior nurses have warned.
Trusts are currently engaged in renewed attempts to reduce their use of agency staff because of impending spending cuts and pressure to improve quality from regulators.
But trusts on the outskirts of London have faced problems because they abide by the same Agenda for Change pay scales as the rest of the country, despite higher living costs in the South East. Trusts in the capital are however allowed to pay “London weighting”.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust emergency and acute care manager Pat Reid said nurses being attracted into the capital was a big problem for the trust. They could earn about £5,000 a year more in inner London, which made reducing agency rates difficult – though it could be done with careful planning and image marketing, she said.
Deborah Wheeler, who became executive director of nursing at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust last month, she said: “It is harder for hospitals in outer London because you can commute to inner London, and get that extra [pay] weighting, which is more than the rail fare.
“We are then also competing against the big teaching hospitals [which can be attractive to work at].”
Ms Wheeler said the trust was trying to overcome the problem. She said: “My preference is to look at the other things [than pay]. It is about giving people support, a good working environment and team, and access to training and development.”
The Liberal think-tank CentreForum proposed last week that national pay scales should be scrapped in favour of regional ones. The conservatives have also suggested they will attempt to dismantle Agenda for Change and national public sector pay contracts.
But James Buchan, professor of health employment research at Queen Margaret University College, Edinburgh, said: “Local pay negotiation would be a very, very difficult undertaking and to try to do it at a time when funding is extremely tight would be challenging.”
A Unison spokeswoman said: “To cut their vacancy rates, hospital trusts should point out the benefits of working at the local hospital. They should also make sure they are staff friendly employers, including having good transport links, flexible working and good childcare arrangements.”