NHS could free-up £100m using fewer non-clinical agency workers

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NHS trusts could free up to £100 million to improve services for patients next financial year, by recruiting administrative and other non-clinical staff to bank or substantive posts, instead of hiring temporary workers from recruitment agencies.

Bank staff tend to come from internal pools of workers who are already employees of the trust and have agreed to work flexibly. On average bank workers cost 20% less that hiring via an agency.
NHS trusts spent £223 million between April 2017 and March 2018 on non-clinical agency staff, who work in areas such as administration, IT and HR. This was 9% of the NHS trust sector’s overall spending on agency workers in 2017-18.

Since April 2017, trusts have reduced agency spending for non-clinical roles by £122 million enabling them to reinvest this money back into the NHS workforce and frontline services that benefit patients.

To help trusts build on these achievements, NHS Improvement is proposing to introduce new rules that determine how organisations should recruit temporary staff into non-clinical roles.
From Spring 2019, NHS Improvement proposes that trusts only consider using administration and estates workers from external agencies for short-term special projects, such as IT transformation, rather than to fill their existing vacancies or to manage busy periods. In other cases, NHS Improvement advises that trusts use bank staff or hire directly.
The proposals are out for public consultation from today (6 February). Since a cap on spending on agency workers was introduced in 2015, NHS Improvement has supported trusts to cut agency spending by over a third or £1.2bn (from £3.6bn in 2015-16 to £2.4bn in 2017/18).

Ian Dalton, Chief Executive of NHS Improvement, said:

“The NHS has made great progress in reducing its spending on non-clinical agency workers in recent years but there is more to do to make every pound count. Cutting unnecessary expenditure on agency administrative staff allows money to be freed up for patient care and supports a more stable NHS workforce.”

Elsewhere in its consultation, NHS Improvement proposes that NHS trusts should only hire temporary workers from ‘on-framework’ agencies (ones that are part of an approved procurement system) for roles such as healthcare assistants, clerical support, and some allied health professionals.

Already, NHS trusts have successfully reduced the number of shifts using ‘off framework’ agencies by 70% in the last 18 months. NHS Improvement will be working closely with trusts to tackle high off framework usage across all staff groups in 2019-20.

Minister for Health Stephen Hammond, said:

“It is great to see that Trusts have managed to reduce spending on agency staff by £1.25 billion and these proposals represent another positive step towards ensuring trusts only use agencies as a last resort.

“We want every Trust to continue prioritising their existing NHS employees when filling shifts, which not only saves the NHS money, but creates a more flexible working environment for hardworking staff.

“We’re backing the ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan with an extra £20.5billion a year and intelligent use of staff banks will further help ensure every penny is spent wisely.”

NHS Improvement is seeking feedback on its proposals until 15 March 2019.