Caps on the amount of money NHS trusts can pay agencies for staff are to be reduced further from next month as planned, regulators have confirmed.
The changes will come in from 1 February and will “significantly reduce” maximum hourly rates for doctors and nurses, said Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority.
As per plans laid out at the end of last year, from February agency nurses’ pay will be capped at 75% above basic rates for an equivalent nurse employed on a permanent basis.
The eventual aim of the proposals is to reduce agency rates for all types of staff to 55% above basic pay from April.
In a letter sent to trust chief executives on 15 January, Jim Mackey, chief executive of NHS Improvement – the new regulatory body due to be formed from the merger of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority – said the price caps were so far having a “positive effect”.
He said the “large majority” of trusts found them helpful, but added that more needed to be done to reduce spending further and encourage more workers to take up bank or substantive posts.
The regulators will now strengthen their approach, he said, by introducing the lower hourly cap from next month and also ensuring all agency procurement is via approved framework agreements from 1 April.
The measures are part of a “clampdown” on agency spend by trusts, announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt last year after official figures showed agency costs had risen from £1.8bn to £3.3bn in three years.
The Royal College of Nursing predicted at the beginning of 2015 that agency nurses alone would account for around £1bn of spending in the 2014-15 financial year.
A recent report by the Royal College of Midwives found trusts in England paid almost triple the hourly rate for an agency midwife than for a band 6 midwife with 10 years’ experience.
Its investigation – based on Freedom of Information requests last year – found among the 130 trusts that responded that total agency spending on midwives rose from £10.2m in 2012 to £17.8m in 2014.
The RCM said the cost of temporary midwives was “spiralling out of control”.