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ARC speaks on the Jeremy Vine show to support the use of agencies by the NHS

The Telegraph has published an article on rip off agencies servicing the NHS and Jeremy Vine decided to debate some of the issues during his radio show on 23rd December. A question that arose was why the NHS uses recruitment agencies at all against the suggestion that the NHS should simply employ all its healthcare workers.


Adrian Marlowe, chairman of the Association of Recruitment Consultancies (ARC) defended the use of agencies, “At a time when it is well known that there are staff shortages in many sectors including the NHS it is important that the NHS has access to the resources necessary to meet its short term and emergency demands. Agencies fill a need in this area, and many health workers and nurses want to work in this temporary way so they have the flexibility to move from one requirement to another, one hospital to another as the need arises.”


In response to the suggestion that the NHS ought to set up its own resourcing companies Marlowe commented, “The NHS has already set up its own internal banks of temporary staff and it uses external banks run by companies selected by the NHS, so all options have been available to the NHS for very many years. Agencies are there to fill the holes that the NHS cannot itself fill.”


However, the ARC believes that this whole issue is far more complex than the radio programme would suggest. Marlowe said, “Jeremy Hunt’s criticism that agencies are charging “unacceptable rates”, turning “big profits at the expense of the NHS” is not the whole picture. Many high charges are driven by the pay rates demanded by the temporary staff and in every case the rates are agreed with the NHS. However, the government cap initiative addresses inefficiency within the NHS by limiting the overall charge for a worker, not the agency margin. It is not appropriate to lay the blame for overpayments at the foot of agencies especially as the NHS has many other options, such as in house temp banks, at its disposal.”


Marlowe also said, “We welcome the efforts the government is making to reduce NHS overheads but we question other government policy that is coming into play, for example the scrapping of tax relief on expenses some agency workers incur for travel which will reduce flexibility and result in lower net pay for agency health workers."


Marlowe commented, “As Jeremy Vine himself concluded we are in a society that increasingly relies on agency arrangements. To embrace the modern way of working we ought to encourage flexibility. This is what individuals want and employers require. The idea that everyone should be regarded as employed on regular permanent employment contracts, which seems to be the Treasury view, is no longer a reality. The Treasury is behind the times in trying to force change simply for the sake of an uncertain short term tax raising exercise which could be particularly impactive in the health sector.”


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