Minister vows to cut ‘demoralising’ use of agency staff in NHS

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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 said he was “shocked” by the variance in the use of agency staff across the NHS.

He said a lot of work has been done to cut the use of agency staff, “but boy there is going to be a whole lot more”.

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.

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock said he will insist less money is spent on agency staff in the NHS (PA)

“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.

“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, across the NHS in England, agency spend was £2.4 billion in 2017/18, down from £3.6 billion in 2015/16 when a cap was introduced on private agency worker costs.

Mr Hancock also said the forthcoming social care green paper, which had been delayed until the autumn, would be published “before Christmas”.

He added the NHS needs to get the “most we possibly can” for the additional £20 billion pledged to the 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 or what have you.

“The promulgation of good ideas is really poor and needs to improve, and 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, and he added: “Of course I don’t want a no-deal Brexit but we need to be prepared for it.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, said: “Trusts have already made significant savings on agency staff spend over recent years, however we acknowledge that there is still more that can be done.

“While agency spend has reduced, trusts are still reliant on temporary staff via banks which is a short term fix to a long term problem.

“The upcoming national workforce strategy, alongside the 10-year plan, must provide a comprehensive and deliverable strategy for ensuring the NHS can hire and retain the skilled staff it needs to meet growing demand for services.”

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