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Hancock threatens much tougher crackdown on agency spending

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has promised to hammer down even more heavily on the use of agency staff across the NHS, a phenomenon which he targeted as one of the key culprits for poor staff morale.

Speaking to NHS Providers boss Chris Hopson, Hancock admitted that he has been “absolutely shocked” by the different levels of agency use up and down the country. Some trusts don’t use it at all, whilst others make use of it even when the bank is available – despite the latter being “much better value for money,” therefore creating a situation that is “difficult to justify.”

“We also have to remember, as leaders of people, that agency hits morale,” he continued. “If you’re working at three-o’-clock in the morning 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 the door if it all gets a bit much... then that is demoralising.”

Strengthening his message further, he stated: “There has already been downward pressure of agency use in the last couple of years, but boy, there’s going to be a whole lot more.”

High levels of agency use across the NHS – once blamed for causing a massive £4bn drain on the budget every year – has been a key target for both Hancock’s predecessor Jeremy Hunt and former NHS Improvement boss Jim Mackey, whose work led to considerable success in the last two years.

Hunt’s cap on agency spending, introduced in 2015 to curb inefficiencies in spending, was responsible for saving £600m in less than a year and £1.2bn so far, but agency remains a latent issue even three years on. In August, for example, NHSI called on trusts to cut down further on agency take-up in order to save almost £500m.

After a busy winter last year, trusts were also left relying on agency staff to deal with a bulging backlog of demand.


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