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02.09.15

Agency spending cap plans must not just be about cost-cutting – RCN

The new rules to cap NHS spending on agency nurses must “not just be seen as a cost-cutting exercise” and patient safety must remain the “utmost priority”, according to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). 

Monitor and NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) published the new rules yesterday that impose individual agency spend ceilings for each trust and the mandatory use of frameworks. Plans to limit the amount individual agency staff can be paid per shift are expected later this year. 

Janet Davies, the new chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said that “astronomical amounts” have been spent paying agencies for temporary nursing staff over the past few years and it is simply not an effective use of NHS funds. 

“However, it’s crucial that these plans are carried out in a way that does not risk patient safety, especially at those moments where care is under extraordinary pressure,” she said.  “These rules cannot get in the way of hospitals securing staff through agencies at short notice if they are essential to meet patient need. Safe staffing levels should be the top priority for any care setting.” 

Davies stated that the NHS needs to have a long-term workforce plan, and also reiterated calls for a “strong bank” of nurses in hospitals something that has been advocated to NHE by Lord Carter of Coles, NHS Professionals and the King’s Fund in recent investigations into agency spending

“With a strong bank of nurses at their disposal, hospitals can use their own staff to supplement the workforce,” she said. “However, there needs to be more incentive for nurses at all levels to participate in this scheme. With improved rates and conditions for bank staff, nurses will have more reason to participate, and hospitals can provide greater continuity of care that remains cheaper than agency costs. 

“If patient safety remains the utmost priority, these plans could have a lasting impact on hospital finances – and ultimately patient care. The NHS should work as one to make these proposals a reality, while ensuring staffing levels do not suffer as a consequence.”

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