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Life preserver

Written by George Owen

Are Locum Agencies Keeping the NHS Afloat?

A recent Guardian survey has revealed that 4 in 5 NHS staff have considered leaving their job, with the vast majority (84%) thinking about it more in the past year.

With workloads, cuts, stress levels and working hours on the rise, and staff effectively taking a 10% pay cut over the last 5 years, can you really blame them? Yes, nursing and healthcare is a vocation rather than a career pursued for a large salary, but if you can do the same work as a locum, with greater flexibility and more pay, why wouldn’t you?

Applications to work abroad surged by 1000% when Jeremy Hunt imposed new contracts on junior doctors, not to mention the continuing strike action, so unless hospitals opt out and offer better terms, there’s likely to be even more demand for locums who can step in to plug the gaps. Ironically, the BBC announced today that more than two-thirds (69%) of trusts and health boards in the UK are actively trying to recruit from abroad.

So are locums (and the so-called “rip-off agencies” who supply them) really bankrupting the NHS, or should they be seen as an essential resource, who are holding the whole system together while the government figure out a long-term solution to an increasingly fraught dispute?

The Problem with Framework Agencies

The government wants the NHS to use framework recruitment agencies to fill permanent positions with staff on fixed contracts, and in theory, pay less for the service and the employee. However, this system rarely supplies the right candidates in a timely manner, which causes frustrations, increased pressure and a lot of wasted time for all concerned.

Managers aren’t getting the right candidates, candidates aren’t getting the right roles, and arguably, patients aren’t getting the care and treatment they deserve.

How does this make anyone’s life easier and save money?

To Be Fair to Jeremy Hunt…

NHS hospitals have no way to increase their revenue stream, so if they need more money to continue operating effectively, and additional funding isn’t available, the only option is to make cuts. We understand that.

Believe it or not, not all off-framework temp agencies are the evil money-grabbers we’re made out to be!

Professional, ethical locum agencies wouldn’t advocate overuse or over-reliance on our services as we know that isn’t sustainable, and we have no issue with the introduction of fair pay caps. However, our clients love having the peace of mind that we can supply what they need, when they need it, and it’s a premium, hassle-free service they’re prepared to pay a little extra for.

Off-framework is Worth it Because it Works

If framework recruitment worked and NHS morale was higher, our service probably wouldn’t exist, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that off-framework is often the best option and should be the preferred choice rather than a last resort?

Are there people out there who are exploiting the shortcomings of the current system and milking it for all it’s worth? Probably. However, the vast majority of us are simply trying to offer a fair deal to people with particularly desirable skill sets who are in very high demand and have chosen to work with greater flexibility.

In our experience, it’s the hours and working conditions rather than the money that causes healthcare professionals to turn away from the NHS and seek locum employment.

Dare I say, it’s easier to blame the failings of the NHS on “rip-off” recruitment agencies than it is to address the root causes of the staff crisis that we’re working hard to help alleviate?

We’d love to get your thoughts on the difficulties the NHS is currently facing and to what extent you feel locum agencies may or may not be contributing, so please leave a comment below.

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