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Staffing agencies ‘pushed out’ by tighter NHSE price caps

Published on: 25 Apr 2023

Staffing agencies that adhere to NHS England’s national price caps framework are being ‘pushed out’ of the market due to a lack of flexibility, they have warned.

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents several agencies, has said the NHS is not “grasping the impact” of the cost-of-living crisis, or why people are choosing to work for agencies rather than in substantive roles.

It comes after NHS England published the price card for 2023-24, which kept rates flat from 2022-23 despite the high inflation rate.

This is both for medical and Agenda for Change staff, as well as across high-cost supplement areas in inner and outer London.

Kate Shoesmith, REC’s deputy chief executive, said: “Good quality, compliant agencies working within NHS frameworks face constant pressure to remain viable, but are being pushed out.

“Commercial framework providers do their best to support the NHS but they are being squeezed, given high inflation rates. A lack of movement on pay caps may eventually shrink the framework and thereby force NHS trusts to pay more for emergency staff and go ‘off framework’.

“Agency price caps were introduced nearly a decade ago. Since then, we have not seen any improvement in staffing availability, it’s just got worse.

“It has got to be the time for all the relevant bodies to work on this together.”

Trusts are strongly encouraged to only use agencies via the framework agreements, approved by NHSE, although when under high pressure they go outside. In December 2020, care minister Helen Whately said trusts should eliminate off-framework agency spending by the end of 2022.

NHS Professionals, which supplies bank staff to around 100 trusts, has highlighted trusts’ difficulties in dealing with “extreme pressure in supply” due to an inability to flex agency pay caps.

They warned this had the potential to push supply “off-framework” and therefore “lose the benefit of the price caps which the frameworks mandate”.

An NHSE spokesman said: “The NHS agency rules and capped rates are reviewed annually, and the NHS long-term workforce plan will set out how the health service can grow staffing numbers to reduce reliance on agency staff.”

The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.