Thousands of new, ‘homegrown’ nurses will be recruited to the NHS in a bid to plug gaps and reduce agency costs, according to government plans reported in the Daily Telegraph.
Reporting on 7 August, the newspaper indicated that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is planning to cut the £3 billion bill for agency staff due to concerns that hospitals are paying locum nurses up to £2,000 per shift.
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The plans are apparently a bid to avoid previous government mistakes which saw investment go on agency nurses and GP contracts rather than front-line service improvements.
‘There is a very real concern that we do not have the capacity and capability to absorb significant new money and spend it efficiently to bring the improvements patients require,’ an unnamed NHS source told the Telegraph.
More than 11,400 nursing and midwifery positions were advertised over the past year, according to NHS figures released in March. An average of three candidates applied to each role, the figures indicate.
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Despite welcoming government efforts to address nursing shortages, Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), expressed concern at a lack of clarity from the Department of Health at this time.
‘Staffing shortages are one of the biggest threats to patient safety,’ she said. ‘It’s good to see the government acknowledging the need for more UK nurses, but they have failed to explain where these staff are going to come from.
‘There just aren’t enough nurses in training to fill the thousands of vacant posts, and the removal of student nurse funding is only driving down applications further. Meanwhile the pay cap is forcing many nurses out of the profession they love.
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‘With Brexit on the horizon, it’s crucial these issues are tackled head on. This is about developing a strong and skilled workforce that is treated with respect.’
According to NHS Improvement, three quarters of trusts were able to reduce their agency spending last year, with 40% cutting spending by more than a quarter. Hospitals are forecast to have spent £3 billion on locums in 2016-17, compared to £3.7 billion in 2015-16.