Published: 03/06/2004, Volume II4, No. 5908 Page 34

Communication has proved a major obstacle to the efficient use of agencies, finds Julia Gardner

The national framework agreement for the provision of temporary administrative and clerical staff was set up by the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency in collaboration with the Office of Government and Commerce and HM Prison Service in June 2002. It was established to ensure that trusts receive the best value and standards from signed-up agencies, which are bound by a set of terms and conditions.

However, from service providers'perspective the national contract has been fraught with difficulties.The main challenges revolve around inter-departmental communication within trusts and between managers and contracted service providers.

Our experience is that administrative and clerical temporary recruitment is seen as a low priority and is therefore overlooked by senior managers.Although it may be a smaller spend than nursing, it still needs to be managed effectively to avoid financial waste. In a number of trusts, obtaining money for administrative and clerical temporary staff is apparently almost impossible.

While a recruitment consultancy may have won a contract to provide staff, becoming operational can be difficult. In some cases, providers have waited for months to become operational, and information on the new service provider is not cascaded to managers who recruit.

Also, although signed up to the framework agreement, some trusts continue to use alternative recruitment agencies.They have no guarantees that those agencies comply with NHS standards in critical areas such as Criminal Record Bureau clearance - basically negating the whole point of the PASA framework agreement.

I believe the problems lie with internal ownership of the process.An internal communication channel is needed, led by the corporate affairs department or equivalent, to provide direction, ownership and leadership.

Service providers signed up to the agreement want to work in conjunction with the NHS to ensure the contract operates to the highest standard.NHS PASA has worked hard to develop this contract.To glean the benefits, it needs to be taken seriously by trusts' senior managers.

Dr Julia Gardner is national account director at Hays Personnel Services.