NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has said the NHS will take collective action to tackle the high cost of agency spending in the NHS.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on BBC One this morning Mr Stevens also said GPs would need to come together to form a “rota” in order to provide access to local patients over the weekend.

He also used the interview to call for action on the amount of processed sugar in food describing it as “slow burn food poisoning” which contributed to cancer, diabetes and obesity adding further pressure on NHS services.

On agency spending Mr Stevens repeated criticisms he has made of agencies supplying temporary staff to the NHS which he said were “ripping off” NHS trusts who in the foundation trust sector had spent £1.8bn in 2014-15, on temporary staff.

He said: “For the last several years, rightly, there has been a big focus on increasing nurse staffing across the NHS, particularly in light of the report Sir Robert Francis did into Mid Staffordshire but it takes three years to train a nurse so if you do this very quickly you end up relying on temporary staff.”

 “We will have to clampdown on some of these staffing agencies who are frankly ripping off the NHS.

“It’s very hard for individual hospitals to do this but collectively the NHS can take action here and we will be doing that.”

He said he did not believe this action would require a change in the law but Andrew Taylor, former chief executive of the NHS Cooperation and Competition Panel, told HSJ that without a change in the law to regulate prices, the NHS “could run into problems with the Competition Act.”

On seven day services in primary care Mr Stevens said there had been systematic under-investment in general practice relative to hospitals for at least a decade but alongside new investment he added: “We are going to need to expand GP services and we are doing that already.

“A bit like on a weekend and you need to go to a duty chemist not every chemist in your local area will be open but there will be a rota. We need to do something similar but with GP services.”

Critics are likely to highlight the risk of a reduced continuity of care for patients in such a model when patients may not see the same GP with the same knowledge of their problems or needs.

Asked whether the government’s commitment to deliver an extra £8bn of investment by 2020 needed to be front-loaded Mr Stevens told Andrew Marr it would need to be “phased” adding: “What we have also got to do in the health service along the way is make some pretty big changes. We have got to change the way care is provided and get serious about prevention.”

He said the NHS needed to get the “maximum bang for the buck” being provided by the taxpayer.

He called for action on the level of processed sugar in food manufacturing saying he wanted to see a “reformulation to take sugar out of foods in the same way that successfully has been done with salt.”

He said manufacturers were now “smelling the coffee” on this and warned the level of sugar amounted to a “slow burn food poisoning” which goes on to cause cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Reacting to a question that the NHS was drowning under management Mr Stevens replied: “We are spending less than 3p on the pound on administration in the NHS.

“Rather than denigrate the role of NHS managers we need to recognise that the NHS needs the best management we can possibly muster.”