The time for the NHS to crackdown on ‘rip-off’ staffing agencies would have been spring or summer. By the time the caps are ready, winter pressures will already be starting to bite so will the centre really be willing to see hospitals turn the taps off?
The most eye catching aspect of the health secretary’s planned crackdown on “rip-off” staffing agencies is proving the most difficult to implement.
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Meanwhile, they will push on with implementing other agency spending controls, but these are not expected to produce big short term savings.
‘It’s hard to see how agency spending controls can contribute much this financial year’
Given the potentially disastrous consequences of getting an agency cap wrong, it is understandable the regulators want to take their time.
But we should acknowledge that this caution has its own consequences.
The cap will only work if trusts are willing to stare down the agencies, and even to close wards, rather than pay more than the set rates.
As King’s Fund policy director Richard Murray has observed, the time for the NHS to have a confrontation like this would have been spring or summer. But by the time the caps are ready, winter pressures will already be starting to bite. Will the centre really be willing to see hospitals turn the taps off at this point?
Even if they do, there will be only a few months left until the end of 2015-16. It is now hard to see how agency spending controls can contribute much in this financial year to solving the problem of spiralling hospital deficits.