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Patient safety at risk if NHS can’t turn to agency nurses, according to REC

Almost three quarters (73%) of healthcare recruiters say restrictions on NHS spending on agency staff have made it more difficult to find doctors and nurses willing to fill temporary vacancies, according to data released today by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).


The data found that eight in ten (80%) recruitment agencies are only able to fill up to half the requests they receive from NHS trusts, due to a drop in the number of doctors and nurses willing to fill in at short notice on NHS wards.


More than a third of recruiters (35%) said they receive on average more than 100 requests for staff from the NHS per week. This is similar to the level of demand recorded at an REC poll six months ago, before the agency caps were introduced in November 2015.


It also revealed that 80% of recruiters said they supplied staff to the NHS on Christmas Day, 85% supplied staff on Boxing Day, and 85% supplied on New Year’s Eve, highlighting the NHS’s dependence on high-quality agency doctors and nurses who are prepared to work flexibly.

The data found that, ahead of the next round of centrally-imposed spending restrictions, which come into effect on Monday 1st February, recruiters indicated that their readiness to supply staff to the NHS will diminish. Two-thirds of agencies (67%) said they are planning to engage less with the NHS and focus more on supplying staff to the private healthcare market.

REC chief executive, Kevin Green, said, “It’s no surprise that fewer skilled doctors and nurses are willing to work for the NHS when their pay has been cut. Meanwhile, the NHS is more reliant than ever on hard working recruiters and the healthcare professionals they supply to maintain safe staffing levels. 

“We warned the government that rushing in these caps would exacerbate the staffing crisis faced by the NHS and that is exactly what is happening. Experienced doctors and nurses are choosing to work for private healthcare providers, seeking opportunities abroad, or changing careers altogether to maintain their salary and flexibility.


“The NHS remains dependent upon locum doctors and nurses to plug holes in its workforce because it is bad at attracting and retaining staff. Since Christmas, more than four in ten agencies we spoke to have taken calls from permanent NHS employees looking to quit their job and begin agency work.


“We are very concerned about the adverse effects that further spending restrictions will have. We already have a situation where recruiters can’t meet the level of demand from NHS trusts. Ultimately it is patients that will suffer if doctors and nurses aren’t available to fill those vacancies.”


NHS spend on agency staff accounted for 2.9% of the NHS's overall annual expenditure in 2014/15.


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