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Government explores cap on spiralling agency spend

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A cap on the cost of agency staff supplied to trusts is being explored by the government in an attempt to tackle the ballooning agency spend in the NHS, it has emerged.

The Cabinet Office is understood to be examining the legality of imposing a cap on payments made to agencies that supply temporary nursing and medical staff to NHS providers.

The potential intervention follows spending on temporary staff reaching £1.8bn in 2014-15, more than double what was planned.

“Employers do report concerns about the behaviour of some agencies”

Danny Mortimer

A key concern is the refusal of some agencies to join local procurement deals designed to limit prices in advance. Instead, some hold out until the NHS is unable to source staff by any other means, and then charge a higher price.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said at a board meeting last week that trusts needed to clamp down on the “egregious prices being charged by some staffing agencies”.

The Cabinet Office, which has so far declined to comment on the story, is yet to make a decision over whether it will intervene, according to Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.

In the meantime, the regulators Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority are working with trusts to try to reduce their agency spending without impacting on patient safety.

Three trusts where agency spend is above average are being provided with “workforce planning expertise” and help in identifying problems – for example, the last minute booking of agency staff.

The aim is to improve workforce planning, bank staff usage and the use of automated tools such as e-rostering.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “Employers do report concerns about the behaviour of some agencies in terms of them not being willing to take part in procurement exercises and actually maximising their profit, but I do think it is a minority of agencies.”

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