News: Agency crackdown begins in earnest

A clampdown on the hundreds of millions paid to agencies for locum staff is in full flow, with the second planned reduction in maximum shift payments kicking in on February 1st.

The new tariff may already be having an impact on HCSA members and their colleagues who work as locums, and is set to reduce still further on April 1st. However, the prices do not apply to substantive/ permanent, bank staff.

The new fee caps are accompanied by a raft of NHS Employers guidance aimed at encouraging a more “strategic” approach to staffing via “effective workforce planning,” using e-rostering to help draw up “more efficient rotas.”

The government and NHS England hope to save £1 billion over three years, although some experts have raised doubts about the effectiveness of the policy in targeting the root causes of agency use in our hospitals, from cleaners to consultants.

A budget-driven approach that aims for reductions in the ongoing costs that permanent staff represent, and reports of lengthy delays in replacing staff, mean that additional absences or departures are likely to see trusts having to reach for the agency phonebook in order to plug gaps.

In some less popular specialisms, such as emergency care, there is a longstanding shortage of permanent clinicians, casting doubt on the long-term effectiveness of the new caps.

Nevertheless, the government and employers appear determined to pursue these changes, with NHS Improvement chief executive Jim Mackey telling the Daily Telegraph: “Staff who work through agencies or as locums need to realise that the market is shifting.

“In future, they will be better off seeking substantive employment within the NHS and picking up extra shifts through staffing banks than relying on the high rates paid by agencies.”

His comments were made as the newspaper predicted the opening of a new front in the clampdown on agencies, with limits placed on the percentage cut the firms could take as a “finders’ fee” – currently as much as 50 per cent of the price paid by the NHS.

More details on the government’s price caps are available here.