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Responding to the Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s letter to the NAO, the REC believes that the NHS needs a detailed inquiry on staffing.

Kate Shoesmith, REC Deputy Chief Executive, explained, “The NHS is in crisis. Thousands of trained health workers choose agency work for the flexibility, pay and variety, and to avoid burnout. Around three in four nursing vacancies are filled by temps​.

“Our latest Report on Jobs shows that vacancies for permanent healthcare staff have now increased in each of the past 31 months. Temporary vacancies have also increased rapidly and more sharply than in any of the other monitored major sectors in the report, which include hospitality and retail.

“An NAO inquiry is long overdue and we would be keen to provide any data and insight to support the investigation. This must be wider than the suggested narrow look at exceptional cases of agency spend over bank holidays or peak times in demand.”

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Kate added, “An inquiry should review how contingent staffing is provided and costed across the NHS and by different NHS trusts, including the use of staffing banks. It should review and consider the return on investment each staffing model brings to the sector and how wards respond to crisis levels of patient needs. Any inquiry needs to carefully weigh up patient care, safety alongside value for money to the taxpayer.

“In addition to an NAO investigation, what we desperately need now is a full and comprehensive workforce strategy for the entire NHS – it has been promised for some time now and is long overdue.

“It is difficult to argue that the agency fee is excessive when, for example, an agency fee on framework is capped at just over £2 out of an £18 hourly rate. And out of this margin, agencies pay a framework fee, train people and pay for their 24/7 operation.”

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