The NHS’ reliance on using temporary agency work is putting the organisation at threat of widespread morale deflation and risk to patient care, according to recent reports.
It was estimated that the NHS spends a total of £1.8 billion in 2014 on agency staff – twice the amount that was originally budgeted for.
All this comes at a time when the NHS is trying to make efficiency cuts in line with reductions to public spending. Yet rather than rule out extraneous spend, the NHS is drafting in agency locum staff in waves to deal with a host of contributing problems, such as staff shortages.
Staff shortages are a common in the NHS due to short-term illness and maternity leave, but also inefficiencies taking place at the recruitment stage. Added to this are underlying factors such as poor pay, increasing workloads, inflated targets and an already intense environment, all leading to more and more cases of stress and burnout amongst clinical staff.
There has also been a rise in sickness levels among staff in recent years – above average in the UK public sector. This has led to more absences from work contributing to greater uncertainty over individual’s futures, forcing the NHS to go out and hire agency staff until the issues are resolved. This leads to short-term fixes determining long-term strategy, which is of benefit to no one.
The result is not just limited to deficits in attaining strategic goals, but also issues around risk to patient car. Agency staff often lack familiarity with the temporary place of employment – like a hospital – and patients. Consequently the continuity of healthcare can suffer.
Also increase agency staff has been shown to reduce the moral of permanent staff due to discrepancies between wages and responsibilities, with permanent staff often expected to undertake roles that agency staff are unwilling to do, despite receiving a lower wage.
In this situation, employment issues really do determine the health of the nation.