Health chiefs are urging hospital trusts to only use agency staff as a ‘last resort’ in a bid to save the cash-strapped NHS nearly £500 million a year, a new report shows.
The health service could free up £480 million annually to reinvest in its services if trusts filled temporary vacancies with workers from a ‘staff bank’ rather than using expensive staffing agencies, according to NHS Improvement.
Temporary employees supplied by agencies, including doctors and nurses, cost on average 20 per cent more than those from NHS staff banks, despite them doing the same job.
Bank staff tend to come from internal pools of workers who are already employees of the specific health service trust and have agreed to work flexible shifts.
NHS Improvement, which oversees hospital trusts, has called on all trusts to take a ‘bank-first’ approach to recruiting temporary staff and to only use agencies as a ‘last resort’.
It claims the five most expensive locum doctors cost the NHS more than £2 million a year.
One agency even charges up to £480 an hour for a consultant, compared to the £76.10 the NHS would expect to pay if a medic came from its own banks.
Health chiefs are urging hospital trusts to only use agency staff as a last resort in a bid to save the cash-strapped NHS nearly £500 million a year, a new report shows (stock)
JUST HOW STRETCHED IS THE NHS?
Waiting times at over-stretched A&E units are at their worst level since records began, according to official figures in April 2018.
Experts said the NHS was in the grip of an ‘eternal winter’ and many hospitals are still struggling to cope with the unprecedented pressure.
Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit it was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.
Chiefs cancelled thousands of operations in a controversial move to ease pressure. And experts have suggested this may be the only option to stop a crisis next year.
The latest monthly data from NHS England also shows that waiting times for routine operations, such as knee and hip replacements, are at their highest since 2004.
And violent assaults on staff have risen by 10 per cent in a year – partly driven by frustration with waiting times.
Aim to reduce agency spending by 17%
NHS Improvement has set all trusts in England a target of reducing agency costs by 17 per cent in 2018/19.
The health service has already cut spending on agency workers by £1.2 billion, or a third, since NHS Improvement introduced a cap in 2015.
In 2017, for the first time in several years, the health service spent more on bank staff than recruiting from agencies, resulting in a £528 million saving on agency spending for the NHS.
Yet the improvement agency maintains the NHS is still missing out on significant savings that could be used to improve patient care.
‘Only use agency staff as a last resort’
NHS Improvement’s chief executive Ian Dalton said: ‘Trusts have made fantastic progress in reducing spending on expensive private agency staff over the last three years.
‘These savings mean more money for other vital NHS services and ensure every penny the NHS spends counts.
‘But there is further progress to be made. Bank staff cost the NHS less than agency staff and could improve a patient’s continuity of care. That is why we want trusts to take a bank-first approach, and only use agency staff as a last resort.
‘Temporary agency workers play an important role in ensuring staffing numbers remain at a level that provides the best possible care for patients and gives them the opportunity to work flexibly.
‘But an over-reliance on high-cost private agencies when there are other options available is not good for patients or for the NHS’s finances.’
The cost-cutting aim set by NHS Improvement means providers should not spend more than 55 per cent above the basic rate for a staff member.
In addition, any agency shift that costs more than £100 an hour must be signed off by the trust’s chief executive and reported to NHS Improvement.
Temporary employees supplied by agencies, including doctors and nurses, cost on average 20 per cent more than those from the NHS’ staff banks, despite them doing the same job (stock)
Bank staff mean a patient is more likely to be treated by the same medic
According to NHS Improvement, opting for bank staff increases the likelihood a patient will see the same medic at each visit.
Due to bank staff generally working within the same trust, their use increases the likelihood of a patient being treated by the same healthcare professional throughout their care.
More than 150 locum doctors have been working at the same trust for over two years, with 14 being at the same trust for more than five years.
In addition, almost 340 nurses are reported as having worked for over two years at the same trust.