NHS England’s chief executive has called for senior nurses to join the action being taken against high cost agency spending by helping to attract more temporary nurses to permanent posts.
Simon Stevens said the health service’s overreliance on temporary staffing must be addressed not only by tackling agencies, but by managers ensuring nurses have more flexible options for shifts.
“What we’ve got to now do..is convert £3.3bn of spending on temporary staffing into as many flexible nursing jobs as we can”
He said changes to nurse rosters to fit in with people’s personal circumstances would help to bring down the NHS’s “ballooning” use of agency staff – who often take up these roles due to the more varied working patterns on offer.
Speaking at the Nursing Times’ Deputies’ Congress in London yesterday, he said: “What we’ve got to now do – and your role is going to be able to, as ward managers as directores and deputies – is to convert that £3.3bn of spending on temporary staffing into as many flexible nursing jobs as we can.”
“We’ve got to harness our collective effort on this to make the change”
He later added: “We do need more flexibility across individual trusts where people are confronted with the choice of ‘Either you sign on for 37.5 hours and we’re going to roster you this way, or you are on agency’.
“That’s the kind of stupid bifurcation where we’ve got to get some more options somewhere in between.”
However, he told the audience of deputy nurse directors that while they should be flexible with their rostering, the NHS still had to be designed to work for patients throughout the week.
He pointed to the higher mortality rates at weekend - which he acknowledged was less to do with nurse staffing and more down to the reduced availability of doctors and other staff – but said the NHS had to tackle variation in care together.
When asked by Ali Strowman, deputy director of nursing at Dartford and Gravesham Trust, how to entice well-paid agency nurse into substantive NHS posts, Mr Stevens said that in some parts of the country trusts would have to start paying the “going rate”.
The NHS England chief said it was also important for local trusts to start working alongside one another to create a workforce strategy.
He referred to some trusts as being “at the mercy” of agencies that choose not to use the government’s pay framework for hiring staff through private companies.
“As individual employers it’s almost impossible to solve. That’s why we’ve got to harness our collective effort on this to make the change,” said Mr Stevens.
Use of agency staff has risen from £1.8bn to £3.3bn in three years, according to official figures.
Earlier this month, the health secretary announced the government would be introducing caps on hourly rates of pay for agency nurses used by the NHS.
It said the new rules would only allow NHS organisations to recruit non-permanent staff from approved agencies, and would also place a limit on total agency staffing spend for trusts in financial difficulty.