Spending on agency staff to fill holes on NHS rotas has increased by 20% over the past year with some agency Nurses receiving as much as £2500 for a single shift.
NHS bosses are finding that their workforces are so understaffed that they are having to breach government pay caps to bring in agency workers. As a result, spending in this area has hit the £3bn mark over the past 12 months.
In a survey sent to 60 trusts across the United Kingdom, ten of them reported that they had paid nurses over £2000 for individual shifts while another 13 said they’d paid between £1000-£2000. It is expected that agency Doctors have been earning even more than that.
The government have explained that the NHS has been under unprecedented amounts of pressure over the past couple of years and that spending on agency staff will start to fall soon.
Back in 2015, NHS bosses were spending close to £4bn on agency staff. As a result, the government introduced a cap which meant that agency staff could only earn a maximum of 55% more than contracted NHS workers.
Recently, NHS trusts have begun to regularly exceed this cap due to the pressures they are under and the lack of staff at their disposal. An incredible 90% of agency shifts for doctors and dentists exceeded this pay cap last year while the figure was at 40% for nurse shifts.
When the cap was first introduced, the government outlined that bosses could only exceed these pay rates if there was a significant risk to patient safety. The fact that the cap has been ignored as much as it has over the past year suggests patient safety has been at risk for much of 2022 across hospitals up and down the country.
When you consider the amount of money that nurses and doctors can earn by working for an agency compared to what they’d earn as a full-time member of staff at a hospital, the appeal is clear.
In an interview with the BBC, a recently qualified Doctor explained why it made more sense for him to go down the agency route as opposed to the traditional, Junior Doctor route. He said:
“Being a Junior Doctor is very difficult, very demanding. Being a locum I can work nine to five, Monday to Friday and take days off that are entirely my decision.
“I can earn twice as much money as I would if I was on the NHS payroll. I wouldn’t consider taking a shift for less than the market rate of £50 to £60 an hour.”Qualified Doctor, BBC Interviewee
“There are downsides, though. You don’t get paid for being on holiday or being ill and you don’t always feel a welcome part of the team.”
Another reason why many medical professionals are going into agency work is because of their aggressive marketing strategies. Agencies take a cut of the fees earned by workers so it benefits them to have as many staff on their books as possible.
Due to the current high demand for agency staff, coupled with inflated wages, many agencies are claiming that now is the best time to make the switch.
In light of these findings, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care has stated that the aim is to reduce this spending by 10% in 2023. They accept that this year has been a difficult one due to the drive to get services back to normal following the Coronavirus pandemic.
In terms of how they are going to hit that that 10% target, the spokesperson said:
“We have a clear policy to reduce agency spending through capping the hourly pay of agency and temporary staff, ensuring they are only hired through approved NHS agreements to ensure value for money, and prioritising NHS staff.
“The government is in the process of developing a workforce plan that will help ensure the health service has the staff it needs.”
Although spending on agency staff hasn’t yet gone back to the heights of 2015/16, this recent rise is certainly cause for concern. The news that agency staff are being paid significantly more money than NHS staff is only going to fuel the fire of nurses’ anger ahead of their impending strikes.