• NHSI wants trusts to stop using non-clinical agency staff to fill vacancies and manage busy periods from the spring
  • Regulator predicts this could save the NHS £100m
  • Ian Dalton says trusts must do more to “make every pound count”

Trusts could be forced to rethink how they use non-clinical agency staff under new proposals from the regulator.

NHS Improvement has proposed that, from spring 2019, trusts only consider using administration and estates workers from external agencies for short-term projects, such as IT transformation.

By using bank staff or hiring directly, rather than using agency workers, to fill vacancies and manage busy periods, the regulator said trusts could save £100m. 

According to NHSI, trusts spent £223m on non-clinical agency staff in areas such as admin, IT and human resources between April 2017 and March 2018. The regulator added this equated to 9 per cent of the trust sector’s overall spending on agency workers in 2017-18.

In its consultation, which is open for feedback until 15 March, NHSI proposed NHS trusts should only hire agency workers from agencies that are part of an approved system, for roles such as healthcare assistants, clerical support, and some allied health professionals.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “The NHS has made great progress in reducing its spending on non-clinical agency workers in recent years but there is more to do to make every pound count.

“Cutting unnecessary expenditure on agency administrative staff allows money to be freed up for patient care and supports a more stable NHS workforce.”

Health minister Stephen Hammond said: “We want every trust to continue prioritising their existing NHS employees when filling shifts, which not only saves the NHS money, but creates a more flexible working environment for hardworking staff.”

However, Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “Administrative staff play a hugely important role supporting clinical teams. But there are thousands of vacancies across the NHS already.

“This proposal will make it more it more difficult to get cover for these roles. This would put even more pressure on other staff.” 

Last year, the regulator said trusts could save £460m by operating a “bank first approach” and only recruiting temporary staff through agencies as a last resort.

Controlling agency spend has been a national priority for NHSI since 2015, when it introduced a nationwide cap on all agency spending, including nursing and medical workers.

The regulator renewed its crackdown on agency staff spending earlier this year, including introducing a requirement for any agency shift costing more than £100 an hour to be signed off by the trust’s chief executive and reported to NHSI.