One agency has been charging up to £480 an hour for a consultant doctor © PA Images
One agency has been charging up to £480 an hour for a consultant doctor © PA Images

NHS urged to cut agency staff spend by 17%

3 September 2018

The NHS stands to save nearly half-a-billion pounds by using temporary staffing agencies less, according to guidance from NHS Improvement.

The agency has called on NHS trusts to prioritise staff who come from internal rosters of workers, and only use agencies “as a last resort”, as a target is announced to reduce agency costs by 17% for 2018-19.

The health service could save £480m to reinvest in services and improve patient care if trusts employed workers from an internal ‘staff bank’ instead of using expensive staffing agencies to fill temporary vacancies, NHS Improvement said.

Doctors and nurses from staffing agencies cost NHS trusts 20% more on average than those from internal pools of workers, who are already employees of trusts and have agreed to work flexible shifts, it said.

The five most expensive agency doctors cost the NHS more than £2m per year, with one agency charging up to £480 an hour for a consultant. That is compared to the £76.10 the service would expect to pay for a consultant from the trust's own rosters.

Since the NHS introduced a cap on agency worker spending in 2015, such expenditure has been cut by one third or £1.2bn. Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, called the savings “fantastic progress”.

“But there is further progress to be made,” he said. “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.”

NHS Employers, which represents HR managers in the health service, said better use of technology had played an important part in making the savings. 

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: “Trusts have indeed delivered a significant reduction in their agency spend in recent years whilst maintaining safe services for patients: better use of technology has played an important part in this.” 

He added: “They will be interested in applying the new guidance from NHS Improvement to deliver further improvements, but will also be clear that there will be situations where the use of an agency member of staff may be the only available option.”

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