The chief executive of NHS Improvement has issued a stern warning to trusts that “aren’t doing enough” to cut their agency staff spending, as the regulator released new figures on the effect of the agency pay caps.
Jim Mackey made the comments to Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal, ahead of a hearing on the NHS’s finances at the Commons health committee this afternoon.
“There are trusts that simply aren’t doing enough to reduce their spending on agency staff”
In a submission to the select committee, NHS Improvement has estimated that the agency spending controls phased in since October 2015 have so far saved the NHS up to £300m.
Prior to the introduction of the agency control measures, the NHS was on course to spend £4bn on agency staff. The new measures means that NHS Improvement now expects the health service to spend a total of £3.7bn on agency staff by the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
The NHS Improvement analysis also said that the adjusted average price paid for a nursing shift has been driven down by 10%.
However, independent analysts have warned that the agency cap policy cannot be properly evaluated without detailed data on areas like staff fill rates, which NHS Improvement has said it does not hold.
The experts argue that this data is necessary to establish whether some trusts are leaving shifts unfilled to avoid breaching agency caps, with corresponding implications for patient safety.
Meanwhile, in recent weeks there have been several cases of trusts complaining that their services have faced staffing shortages because neighbouring providers have been willing to breach the caps.
Jim Mackey 25 June 2015 roundtable
In a statement issued to HSJ ahead of the committee hearing, Mr Mackey said: “These measures are absolutely crucial. We know this is difficult but there are trusts that simply aren’t doing enough to reduce their spending on agency staff.
“These figures show the significant savings that can be achieved and we have seen many examples of trusts doing really positive things to encourage staff back into full-time or bank roles.
“I want all hospitals to take these measures seriously and to work with us on making meaningful changes to how they approach the issue of agency staffing.”
“This data shows our controls are bearing fruit”
He added: “We’ve known the scale of the financial challenge facing the NHS for some time and dramatically reducing the amount of money hospitals spend on agency staff is a key part of our plan to balance the books.
“The measures have had a real impact and we are starting to see a significant reduction in the amount of NHS money being paid to these agencies,” he said. “We need to keep up the pressure and make sure the era of overreliance on agency staff comes to an end.”
In a statement, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “For too long rip off staffing agencies have been able to charge extortionate rates, but this data shows our controls are bearing fruit.
“This is good news for patients because the savings will be reinvested in frontline patient care and it will also lead to more staff coming back from agencies to permanent roles in the NHS, enabling hospitals to deliver better continuity of care,” he added.