Hunt Imposes More Restrictions on Locum Doctors and Nurses in England

It was confirmed yesterday (14 October 2015) that a new cap will be imposed on the amount that recruitment companies can charge per shift for all NHS staff in England, including doctors and non-clinical personnel.

The hourly price cap will be introduced from 23 November, reducing over time until April 2016. From then NHS trusts will not be able to pay more than 55% more to agencies than it costs to pay a member of NHS staff for a shift, with the difference allowing for lack of paid holiday, sick pay and pensions.

These changes will be implemented alongside strict new rules already introduced earlier this year, which include banning the use of agencies that are not approved and a requirement to obtain specific permission for any expensive consultancy contracts over £50,000.

Figures suggest that the NHS paid a record £3.3 billion on agency doctors and nurses in the last financial year, more than the cost of all that year’s 22 million A&E admissions combined and spending on temporary workers rose by £800million during the same period.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said the new cap will result in savings of £1billion over the next three years. However, set parameters for pricing of agency staff already exists within the NHS framework agreement and critics fear that these further restrictions will do little to resolve the huge financial deficits that trusts are facing due to spiralling patient demand and reducing budgets. Too many posts have been cut and too few students are coming up the ranks to fill the void. Arguably, without agency staff pitching in, the NHS and its patient care could suffer.

More detail on exactly how these new caps will be reconciled with NHS trusts’ legal responsibility regarding safe staffing levels is yet to be confirmed. Those against the restrictions are also concerned that the changes are due to come into force towards the end of the year, a time when health workers are overstretched and demand for agency staff is likely to be at its greatest.