Confusion over pay rates for NHS agency workers could lead to further staff shortages and concerns over patient safety

Staffing agencies in the healthcare sector are concerned that NHS agency workers are not getting the pay increase awarded to substantive staff last year, and that agencies are unfairly being left responsible for covering the increased National Insurance contributions announced by the Chancellor. This could represent a serious threat to the sector’s ability to provide staff to the NHS – which is already struggling with long waiting lists and the most significant staff shortages we have seen since the start of the pandemic.

On 29 March 2022, NHS England and Improvement (NHSEI) published their updated agency rate card which determines wage rates for 2022-23. This publication fails to award agency workers with the 3% increase given to their permanent equivalents, and comes just days before National Minimum Wage and National Insurance changes come into force. This short notice creates operational challenges for agencies and the NHS Trusts they supply, and prevents workers having clarity around their new pay rates – at a time when the cost of living crisis has already started to bite. This is despite the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) having raised the issue numerous times with various government organisations since July 2021.

The REC is urging government and the NHS to undertake a fundamental review of frameworks and price caps in the health service, as well as work with agencies on building a long-term workforce plan.

Kate Shoesmith, Deputy CEO of the REC, said:

“Over the past two years and more, healthcare staffing agencies and agency workers have proven what an important part of the NHS they are – and were personally thanked by the then Minister for their contribution during the pandemic. Every day, our members place temporary staff exactly where they are needed, efficiently and at incredibly short notice. Without agency staff the NHS would be unable to meet patient needs, so it is vital that the sector is supported to remain viable. Constant pressure on agency rates fails to take into account why people currently choose to work via an agency in the NHS, and will only make the current staff shortages worse. If this is allowed to continue, we will see an uplift in off-framework activity. Our members can provide insight to help government and the NHS build a really sustainable and successful health service. If that expertise and experience is ignored, it will only impact patient care – and no one wants that.”