Patient safety at risk if NHS can’t turn to agency nurses – REC

Filed under Press release

Friday, 29 January 2016


Three quarters (73 per cent) of healthcare recruiters say restrictions on NHS spending on agency staff have made it more difficult to find doctors and nurses willing to fill temporary vacancies, according to data released today by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).


Eight in ten (80 per cent) recruitment agencies are only able to fill up to half the requests they receive from NHS trusts, due to a drop in the number of doctors and nurses willing to fill in at short notice on NHS wards.


More than a third of recruiters (35 per cent) said they receive on average more than 100 requests for staff from the NHS per week. This is similar to the level of demand recorded at an REC poll six months ago, before the agency caps were introduced in November 2015.


Eighty per cent of recruiters said they supplied staff to the NHS on Christmas Day, 85 per cent supplied staff on Boxing Day, and 85 per cent supplied on New Year’s Eve, highlighting the NHS’s dependence on high-quality agency doctors and nurses who are prepared to work flexibly.


Ahead of the next round of centrally-imposed spending restrictions, which come into effect on Monday 1st February, recruiters indicated that their readiness to supply staff to the NHS will diminish. Two-thirds of agencies (67 per cent) said they are planning to engage less with the NHS and focus more on supplying staff to the private healthcare market.


REC chief executive Kevin Green says:


“It’s no surprise that fewer skilled doctors and nurses are willing to work for the NHS when their pay has been cut. Meanwhile, the NHS is more reliant than ever on hard working recruiters and the healthcare professionals they supply to maintain safe staffing levels. 


“We warned the government that rushing in these caps would exacerbate the staffing crisis faced by the NHS and that is exactly what is happening. Experienced doctors and nurses are choosing to work for private healthcare providers, seeking opportunities abroad, or changing careers altogether to maintain their salary and flexibility.


“The NHS remains dependent upon locum doctors and nurses to plug holes in its workforce because it is bad at attracting and retaining staff. Since Christmas, more than four in ten agencies we spoke to have taken calls from permanent NHS employees looking to quit their job and begin agency work.


“We are very concerned about the adverse effects that further spending restrictions will have. We already have a situation where recruiters can’t meet the level of demand from NHS trusts. Ultimately it is patients that will suffer if doctors and nurses aren’t available to fill those vacancies.”


NHS spend on agency staff accounted for 2.9 % of the NHS's overall annual expenditure in 2014/15.




Notes to editors:


1. For more information, contact the REC Press Office on 0207 009 2157/2192 or An ISDN line is available for interviews on 0207 021 0584.


2. Jobs transform lives, which is why we are building the best recruitment industry in the world. As the professional body for recruitment we’re determined to make businesses more successful by helping them secure the people they need.  We are absolutely passionate and totally committed in this pursuit for recruiters, employers, and the people they hire.  Find out more about the Recruitment & Employment Confederation at


3. During a live webinar in June 2015, before the agency spending caps were introduced, the REC asked member agencies that supply healthcare professionals:


On average, how many requests for staff do you get from each trust you supply into on a weekly basis?
Total respondents: 65

a)   0-50  42%
b)   50-100  25%
c)   100-200  11%
d)   200+  22%


4. On 14 January 2016 the REC polled member agencies that supply healthcare professionals during a live webinar:


Q1 - On average how many requests for staff do you get from each trust you supply on a weekly basis?
Total respondents: 92

a)   0-50  48%
b)   50-100  17%
c)   100-200  16%
d)   200 +  19% 


Q2 - What is your approximate fill rate of these requests?
Total respondents: 97

a) 0-25%   44%
b) 25 – 50%   36%
c) 50 – 75%   8%
d) 75 – 100%  12%


Q3 - Since the new cap on individual staff pay and agency fees was introduced in November 2015, finding agency healthcare professionals willing to fill temporary vacancies within NHS trusts been:
Total respondents: 64
a) Easier        3%
b) More difficult       73%
c) About the same, no easier and no more difficult   24%


Q4 - Since Christmas have you received any enquiries from substantive NHS staff looking to quit their permanent roles and begin agency/temp work?
Total respondents: 64
 a) Yes    44%
b) No    56%


Q5 - Did you supply locum doctors and/or agency nurses to work in NHS trusts to work on the following days? (Select all that apply)
Total respondents: 56

a) Christmas Day  80%
b) Boxing Day  85%
c) New Year’s Eve  85%
d) New Year’s Day  84%


Q6 - How are you responding to the introduction of the cap and preparing for when the ceiling on wages and fees is lowered again in February (Select all that apply)
Total respondents: 61

a) Diversifying the range of staff you supply in the healthcare sector  62%
b) Concentrating on the private healthcare market     67%
c) Cutting costs on your own staff and other overheads    40%
d) Exiting Managed Service Provider (MSP) arrangements you have previously been a part of          18%
e) None of the above         10%

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