Published: 07/11/2002, Volume II2, No. 5830 Page 22

The NHS should be talking to private-sector managers to find out how to stop the exodus of nurses from the profession each year.

The health service is losing 9 per cent of its staff every year, which means it is having to recruit 100,000 qualified people annually just to stand still. The government should be finding out what care agencies are doing right to attract and retain toplevel nursing staff - and follow their example.

The consultation that does take place between the government and the industry is, effectively, paid lip service and it is largely ignored.

But the fact is, poor management and bad organisation in stretched NHS hospitals is causing a steady flow of disillusioned nurses and care workers into agency work or away from the medical profession altogether.

Part of the reason for this is the difference in conditions, pay and work/life balance they can get with an agency, such as Abacus Care, which the NHS just doesn't seem to be able to address.

The NHS is not subject to half the red tape, tax-related legislation and other employment costs which affect the independent care agencies, yet still we are getting it right.

This, in turn, is pushing up the cost of employing agency staff - and the cost is reflected, in turn, on the NHS who have to pay for nursing cover.

It is down to bad management.

Rather than interfering, the government should be asking how we are managing to recruit staff and the NHS is not. The NHS should be turning to private-sector managers who understand and value their staff and have the expertise and the management skills to retain the right sort of people.

NHS Professionals [the inhouse agency set up by the Department of Health to provide cheaper freelance staff] will fall victim to the same bad management and low morale that is already affecting the NHS at large. The whole point is that NHS staff are wanting out of a system which gives them no flexibility and poor pay.

Former NHS nurses can't believe the improvement in their work/life balance when they start working for an agency. Staff can work as much or as little as they want, giving them the chance to take time out to study or pursue other interests.

You simply do not get that sort of flexibility and freedom working for the health service.

Nigel Fielding Managing director Abacus Care