The NHS could save almost half a million pounds if it was less reliant on temporary staffing agencies, the trusts regulator has said.
NHS Improvement said that NHS England could free up to £480m if trusts used more staff from their own ‘staff banks’.
It comes as NHS Improvement called on all trusts to reduce their agency costs by 17% for 2018/19.
The data showed that temporary staff such as doctors and nurses are on average 20% more expensive than NHS England’s staff.
For example, the five most expensive locum doctors cost over £2m a year, with agencies charging as much as £480 an hour for a consultant compared to £76.10 – the expected cost for one supplied by the NHS banks.
Damaging for patients
NHS Improvement chief executive Ian Dalton said that an ‘over-reliance on high cost private agencies is not good for patients or for the NHS’s finances’.
He added: ‘Temporary agency workers play an important role in ensuring staffing numbers remain at a level that provides the best possible care for patients and gives them the opportunity to work flexibly.
‘Bank staff cost the NHS less than agency staff and could improve a patient’s continuity of care. That is why we want trusts to take a bank first approach, and only use agency staff as a last resort.’
Since NHS Improvement introduced price caps in 2015 – which prevent trusts from spending more than 55% above the basic rate for a staff member – the NHS has saved £1.2bn.
Even though trusts have made ‘fantastic progress’ in reducing spending on ‘expensive private agency staff’, Mr Dalton argued the NHS is still missing out on significant potential savings.
‘These savings mean more money for other vital NHS services and ensure every penny the NHS spends counts’, he said.
Commenting on the figures, NHS Providers deputy director of policy and strategy Miriam Deakin said: ‘The reliance on agencies across the healthcare system is a sticking plaster solution for the growing number of vacancies across the NHS and the increase in demand for services.
‘Temporary staff continue to play an important role in the NHS staffing mix, but we urgently need a long-term approach to staffing that is underpinned by a comprehensive workforce strategy.’