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Government reveals pay cap for agency nursing staff


The hourly rate the NHS can pay agency staff will be capped at 55% above the pay levels of permanent staff, under plans announced by the Department of Health.

The cap will be phased in for clinical staff, including doctors and nurses, from 23 November, subject to a consultation.

“For too long staffing agencies have been able to rip off the NHS by charging extortionate hourly rates”

Jeremy Hunt

It will initially be double the pay level of permanent staff, and will be gradually reduced to 55% higher by April 2016.

In a statement today, the DH said this would mean agencies “cannot charge the NHS a shift rate that is more than the hourly rate paid to existing substantive doctors, nurses and other clinical and non-clinical staff”.

The 55% top-up is to cover agency fees, holiday pay, pension contributions and national insurance costs, a DH spokesman told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.

He said that for nurses the cap will be based on an hourly rate for permanent staff of about £15, which means that trusts would pay about £23 an hour for an agency nurse.

The DH said this, along with previously announced rules about procurement of agency nurses, is expected to save about £1bn over three years.

Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority will launch a consultation on the caps this week. “Exceptional” breaches of the limits will be considered, but will require advance agreement.

The cap will not apply to interim managers employed through an agency, but recruitment will have to be approved by Monitor and the TDA.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “For too long staffing agencies have been able to rip off the NHS by charging extortionate hourly rates which cost billions of pounds a year and undermine staff working hard to deliver high quality care.”

Professor Sir Mike Richards, the chief inspector of hospitals, said: “I welcome the fact that this is being phased in, allowing staff and trusts time to adjust and minimising any risks to patient safety.”

Last week, it was revealed that providers’ combined financial performance in the first quarter of 2015-16 was £163m worse than planned, largely due to higher than expected spending on agency staff.

“The savings from these plans must be converted into permanent positions for nursing staff to ensure patient care is not compromised”

Janet Davies

But the Royal College of Nursing warned that the plans should not be seen as a “cost-cutting exercise”.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “While capping agency charges may look like firm action from the government, it will not resolve the huge financial deficits trusts are facing because of spiralling patient demand and flat-lining budgets.

“Rising agency costs are a symptom of short-term workforce planning,” she said. “Any action on agency spending must go hand in hand with a longer-term strategy to train more nurses and properly value their work.  

“These plans cannot be seen as a cost-cutting exercise as hospitals need these nurses to provide safe patient care,” warned Ms Davies.

“The savings from these plans must be converted into permanent positions for nursing staff to ensure patient care is not compromised,” she added.


Readers' comments (27)

  • Why are interim management rates not being included? The rates paid plus expenses and travel costs are ridiculous at the current time

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  • If the NHS treated their permanent staff with more human decency and made a firm commitment to work life balance instead of agreeing to shift patterns only to threaten staff that they can no longer have the agreed shift pattern a few months later then the need for Agency nurses would naturally decrease and permanent staff would not be leaving in droves because they are forced to.

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  • Meanwhile the fat cats at the top are raking it in

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  • If we were paid a decent wage and treated better then there would be no need for agency staff

    I know at least 4 nurses on my ward that are leaving this year alone!!

    They are sick and tired of the non existent pay rises and long working hours for no extra pay

    This will only get worse!

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  • I wish I was on 15 pounds an hour ! These rates are still too high , newly qualified nurses are on much less than this but are taking huge responsibility on understaffed wards. Many agency shirk responsibility and do as little work as possible, please note I said many, not all I have in my time worked with some extremely good agency nurses.

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  • Jeremy Hunt appears to be making the situation worse by making such irresponsible comments such as " Far too long staffing agencies have been able to rip off the NHS ..." .
    If he and the government got their act together , their should be no need for trusts to hire such HUGE numbers of agency staff to cover shifts in so many of our hospitals.

    So Mr Jeremy , IF say 10 - 20% of agency staff decide not to continue working for agencies and move into a different career path , where will YOU be then , in an even worse mess than you are now maybe ?

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  • Headed for the USA where i'll get paid an amount where I can afford to live and still get to nurse patients. Here, I can't pay my bills without working agency.

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  • It interesting to refer to agency nurses as ripp off and permanent staffs as hard working and carrying more responsibilities. But don't forget the majority of agency staffs were working as permanent NHS staffs and choose to work as agency for variety of reasons. Agency staffs are not different to permanent staff and they work with the same qualification and has equal duty of care to deliver quality service as per NMC code of conduct.

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  • This will never stick, my trust is getting rid of overtime pay and expects nurses to do extra on 'bank rate' which is often lower than average hourly rate. Fact of the matter is that nurses will leave agencies in their droves to do something else as will nhs staff. Therefore patient safety will ultimately suffer.

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  • I work for an agency and we don't get that much more. The agencies are the ones that get the benefit. Also I do not get sick pay, have to pay for my own training, indemnity insurance and am not guaranteed work. I left the NHS after working for them for twenty years as my contract changed and I could not do the hours with my family commitments. This government has no clue.

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