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Government launches crackdown on 'rip-off' NHS staffing agencies

The Health Secretary has ordered a clampdown on staffing agencies. Credit: PA Wire

The Government has launched a crackdown on staffing agencies that are "ripping off the NHS".

The NHS spent nearly £3.3 billion last year on agency staff bills, with agency doctors currently paid up to £3,500 per shift.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said action was needed to tackle the spiralling cost as he accused agencies of "quite simply ripping off the NHS" with the "outrageous" sums.

The new rules - designed to improve NHS finances by "eliminating waste" - will:

  • Introduce a maximum hourly rate for agency doctors and nurses
  • Ban the use of agencies that are not approved
  • Put a cap on total agency staff spending for each NHS trust in financial difficulty

The action comes after the annual bill for agency staff increased from £1.8 billion to £3.3 billion over the past three years.

The total bill for management consultants was more than £600 million last year.

Mr Hunt said an immediate cap of £50,000 will be applied to all management consultancy contracts.

Jeremy Hunt accused agencies of 'ripping off' the NHS. Credit: PA Wire

A report by the regulator Monitor, released last month, found a huge "over-reliance" on contract and agency staff had contributed to NHS trusts running huge financial deficits.

NHS boss Simon Stevens has said the health service will need a further £8 billion by 2020 at the same time as needing to make £22 billion of efficiency savings.

Mr Hunt said: "Expensive staffing agencies are quite simply ripping off the NHS.

"It's outrageous that taxpayers are being taken for a ride by companies charging up to £3,500 a shift for a doctor.

"The NHS is bigger than all of these companies, so we'll use that bargaining power to drive down rates and beat them at their own game."

Agency staff bills cost the NHS £3.3 billion last year. Credit: PA Wire

Andy Burnham, the Shadow health secretary and Labour leadership candidate, said the rising cost of the agency bill was down to "Tory mismanagement of the NHS".

"The decision to cut 6,000 nursing posts in the early years of the last parliament, alongside big reductions in nurse training places, has left the NHS in the grip of private staffing agencies. The Tory government is responsible for this monumental waste of NHS resources."

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said trusts had been left with no other choice but to "pay over the odds" for agency staff because of cuts to nurse numbers and a lack of investment in nurse training.

He agreed that action was needed to stop the NHS "spending so much money on short-term staffing solution".