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Health Secretary vows crackdown on NHS agency staff

 

The Health and Social Care Secretary has vowed to clamp down on agency spending in the NHS, saying the use of such staff can be ‘demoralising’ for workers.

Matt Hancock today said he was ‘shocked’ by how the use of agency staff varies across the health service.

He said a lot of work has been done to cut the use of agency staff, but added he would crack down even further, saying ‘boy there is going to be a whole lot more’.

Mr Hancock said the NHS’s own bank system – in which workers are kept on the payroll and do casual shifts – works well and is better value for money.

It is unfair for staff nurses to work alongside agency workers who may be doing the same or less work but being paid more, the MP for West Suffolk added.

The Government's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, says he wants to cut down on the amount of money the NHS spends on employing agency staff

The Government's Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, says he wants to cut down on the amount of money the NHS spends on employing agency staff

The Government’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, says he wants to cut down on the amount of money the NHS spends on employing agency staff

In a pre-recorded interview streamed to the NHS Providers conference in Manchester, Mr Hancock said: ‘I think that the bank system works pretty well but I have been absolutely shocked by the different levels of use of agency.

‘In some trusts there is no agency at all, I think that’s terrific, then I see some trusts having to use agency.

‘But when the bank is available, which is much better value for money, that is difficult to justify.

‘We have also got to remember that agency hit morale.

‘If you are working at 3am on a nurse station and the person next to you is in this hospital for their first time and therefore find it very hard to do as good a job, and you’ve been there for years and they’re being paid several times more than you for the same shift, and they don’t have the responsibilities and can walk out of the door if it all gets a bit much – that is demoralising.

AMBULANCE TRUST HAS HIRED ONE AGENCY WORKER FOR 13 YEARS

The Government has been urged to cut back the NHS’s ‘unsustainable’ reliance on agency staff.

At least 3,700 agency workers have worked at least a shift per month for the same trust for more than a year, including 628 doctors and 2,347 nurses.

Data obtained by the Labour Party found one NHS trust had more than 600 staff on year-long agency contracts.

And one ambulance trust had an agency worker who had done at least shift a month for over 13 years, Freedom of Information requests revealed.

Donna Kinnair, one of the country’s most senior nurses at the Royal College of Nursing said: ‘Reliance on large numbers of agency staff to fill the gaps in the NHS is unsustainable.’

Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow health minister said: ‘This reliance on agency workers is unsettling for hospitals and causing uncertainty for patients who see their continuity of care disrupted.

‘The Government must bring forward a sustainable, long-term workforce plan that gets enough permanent staff in place to deliver safe services for patients.’

‘There has already been downward pressure on agency use in the last couple of years but boy, there is going to be a whole lot more.’

The latest figures from NHS Improvement show that agency spend in England was £2.4 billion in 2017/18.

This figure was down from £3.6 billion in 2015/16 when a cap was introduced on private agency worker costs.

Mr Hancock also said a forthcoming social care green paper, which had been delayed until the autumn, will be published ‘before Christmas’.

He added the NHS needs to get the ‘most we possibly can’ for the additional £20 billion pledged to the health service in England over the next five years.

‘I want to see a big push towards prevention,’ he added.

Mr Hancock also criticised some of the trial schemes run in the NHS, saying he is ‘quite sceptical of piloting’.

He added: ‘One of the things I’ve been really surprised about upon arrival in the NHS is how many things are piloted and how infrequently even successful pilots get taken up, because maybe the budget isn’t there anymore or nobody else heard about it.

‘The promulgation [making laws] of good ideas is really poor and needs to improve.

‘Part of the reason about that is a fetish about piloting everything as opposed to learning from successful pilots or good ‘wave one’ projects, changing them where necessary, and then getting that roll out.’

On Brexit, Mr Hancock said good work has been done on ensuring ‘flow’ for medicines and medical devices.

He added: ‘Of course I don’t want a no-deal Brexit but we need to be prepared for it.’

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