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NHS chief confirms 'collective' action on agency staff spending


NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has said the health service will take collective action to tackle the high cost of agency spending.

Mr Stevens was speaking on the Andrew Marr show on BBC One on Sunday morning, in which he discussed agency spending, making the NHS a “seven-day” service and sugar in food.

He repeated criticisms he has made of agencies supplying temporary staff to the NHS which he said were “ripping off” NHS trusts who in the foundation trust sector had spent £1.8bn in 2014-15, on temporary staff.

 “We will have to clampdown on some of these staffing agencies who are frankly ripping off the NHS”

Simon Stevens

He said: “For the last several years, rightly, there has been a big focus on increasing nurse staffing across the NHS, particularly in light of the report Sir Robert Francis did into Mid Staffordshire. But it takes three years to train a nurse so if you do this very quickly you end up relying on temporary staff.”

 “We will have to clampdown on some of these staffing agencies who are frankly ripping off the NHS,” he said.

“It’s very hard for individual hospitals to do this but collectively the NHS can take action here and we will be doing that,” he added.

Mr Stevens said he did not believe this action would require a change in the law.

The NHS England chief executive also said GPs would need to come together to form a “rota” in order to provide access to local patients over the weekend.

In addition, he used the interview to call for action on the amount of processed sugar in food describing it as “slow burn food poisoning” which contributed to cancer, diabetes and obesity adding further pressure on NHS services.

On seven-day services in primary care, Mr Stevens said there had been systematic under-investment in general practice relative to hospitals for at least a decade but alongside new investment he added: “We are going to need to expand GP services and we are doing that already.

“A bit like on a weekend and you need to go to a duty chemist not every chemist in your local area will be open but there will be a rota,” he said. “We need to do something similar but with GP services.”

Critics are likely to highlight the risk of a reduced continuity of care for patients in such a model when patients may not see the same GP with the same knowledge of their problems or needs.

Asked whether the government’s commitment to deliver an extra £8bn of investment by 2020 needed to be front-loaded, Mr Stevens told Andrew Marr it would need to be “phased”.

He added: “What we have also got to do in the health service along the way is make some pretty big changes. We have got to change the way care is provided and get serious about prevention.”

He said the NHS needed to get the “maximum bang for the buck” being provided by the taxpayer.

He called for action on the level of processed sugar in food manufacturing saying he wanted to see a “reformulation to take sugar out of foods in the same way that successfully has been done with salt.”

He said manufacturers were now “smelling the coffee” on this and warned the level of sugar amounted to a “slow burn food poisoning” which goes on to cause cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Reacting to a question that the NHS was drowning under management, Mr Stevens replied: “We are spending less than 3p on the pound on administration in the NHS.

“Rather than denigrate the role of NHS managers we need to recognise that the NHS needs the best management we can possibly muster.”


Readers' comments (18)

  • Amazingly, if Trusts stopped making staff redundant, filled vacant posts and made establishements more realistic for levels of care, agency staff would rarely be required and the NHS would save this money or at least it would be more appropriately spent within the NHS, instead of lining the pockets of wealthy agencies and the private sector. Simple really. Might not fit in with Tory values though.

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  • Agency Nurses are often not value for money as they are usually restricted in practice e.g IV drug administration. It is always more cost effective and efficient to retain good permanent staff

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  • And of course, none of the problem would be the mistakes that have been made in workforce planning, especially nursing? If agencies have been able to set prices that can only be because supply is outstripped by demand, and I thought the market was supposed to have all the answers - a belief which does seem a belief consistent with those on the right of the political spectrum! Or does that only work with fuel? No - hang on, that market is manipulated too...

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  • I agree with Anon 12.49 pm but don't forget, the NHS reduced the number of nurses in training so where are they going to get the permanent staff from? Lets plunder developing societies yet again!

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  • There are plenty of qualified and registered commonwealth nurses in the UK begging to work. Trying to get NMC registration is a nightmare! I am referring to nurses with real qualifications and real experience. Those with traceable qualifications right back to day one of their nurse training.
    The NHS would do themselves a huge favour and save millions by having a discussion with the NMC regarding the status quo on commonwealth girls! Treat them the same as EU nurses and there would be no need for agency staff. Plus 90% of us are fluent in English!

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  • Anonymous | 1-Jun-2015 4:11 pm

    "Lets plunder developing societies yet again!"

    Nobody is "plundering" anybody - many countries (e.g. India and Philippines) deliberately train many more nurses than they need within their own country.

    Nurses are available from many EU countries because the worldwide financial crisis has produced large-scale unemployment in the sector.

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  • Yes, I am a nurse from NZ, none of my ten years of experience in the Public Hospitals of NZ is recognised here in the UK, I am being offered a new graduate salary! I am taking a
    GBP 10,000 drop of income working here in the UK. It doesn't really add incentive for experienced nurses from abroad, does it? Additionally, on the subject of wages, it is very sad to see UK nurses, who are so well qualified and educated, being faced with pitiful salaries, often having invested large amounts of money into their education. Until there is an increase in salary the problems will remain. Nurses will go to agencies instead of the NHS. On a positive note, despite the depressing salary, I am happy to be joining ranks and gaining experience here in the UK.

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  • I am an agency nurse,I have qualified as a nurse here in England.I am a very good nurse and being referred to in a negative way because I chose to work for an agency is quite annoying.
    Not all agency nurses are the same.

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  • Yes we use many agency nurses. This goes to show that there are no staff shortages.
    If nurses had reasonable pay and better and more flexible working conditions they would not want or need to join agencies. Nurses are always the soft target for savings and then by slight of hand the same staff come back as agency or bank staff. This cavalier attitude by managers (and also many senior nurses) and extremely poor management of staff, who are people too, has caused much misery and unnecessary disruption to essential services.
    Shame on you NHS and managers of nursing services. You have lost sight of the fact that people pushed to their limits will leave and the patients will suffer because of disrupted services.

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  • I have just moved from a substantive post to being a nurse that contracts herself to the NHS via an agency.
    After all isn't that what 'locum' Doctors do?
    Are not the cleaning and catering staff contracted from the private sector?
    Is that not what this government want?

    But when it comes to nurses, we are the soft underbelly of the NHS. We take the low wage, the hours and the flack.

    I could not continue working within my hospital, why?

    a) they are applying the work directive of 37 hrs per week over a 17 week period. ie
    i was asked to work 50 hours one week and hardly any the next, or longday on longday off longday on longday off. I am 60 for goodness sake and need to keep my body working for another 7 years before I retire!

    b) I need a life. ability for 5 days requests per month out of 30 odd days does not make for any form of regular social life or commitments.

    c) Working short staffed shifts constantly. Yes I filled out datix forms, but stayed behind to do it after my shift because we were so short, there was no time. And what is the point of that. You have already worked a dangerous shift. Who is to say the next one won't be the same. It usually was.

    d) Doing course after course, but no time for the competencies to be signed because of working short staffed. Coming in on days off to work to get them signed off so that you could not be pulled away to do something else.

    e) My main reason, I want time to be kind.

    f) My rent and outgoings of running a car and shopping at Lidl has now out stripped my monthly wage. All of those three things have gone up. We were fighting over working bank holidays, nights and weekends to increase our wages. I am on the edge of London, but just outside London weighting, but sadly not London prices.

    Would I go back to work in a 'proper' post? Yes i love working in a team. I hate the faces of the people I see judging me as I come into work.

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