MP and union blast Tories’ NHS pledge

Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Blackpool Victoria Hospital
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A Blackpool MP has today blasted the Government after a bid to impose a ‘cap’ on the amount agencies can charge hospitals to provide staff was revealed – saying far more needs to be done.

Yesterday, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the Government was looking at new rules which would place curbs on the amount hospitals would have to pay out for temporary staff.

It comes in response to criticism from the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, who said agencies were “ripping off” the NHS and hospitals were “over-spending” on temporary workers.

And it also comes just a day after The Gazette revealed bosses at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals Trust spent more than £15m on agency staff in 2013/14 – the same year the body posted a £12.4m loss in annual accounts.

Mr Hunt acted after the annual bill for agency staff rose from £1.8bn to £3.3bn over the past three years.

The new rules will introduce a maximum hourly rate that agencies can charge for a stand-in doctor or nurse’s services and cap the amount that any trust in financial trouble can spend on them.

Trusts will also be banned from using agencies that are not on a new approved list.

But Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said the Government is responsible for the huge bills in the first place.

He added: “These are figures that are disturbing, concerning and we need to address them. It is extremely rich of Jeremy Hunt to be waving his hands at a time like this.

“We’ve failed to have a proper training scheme and strategy for training doctors and nurses in the UK over the past five years. His party contributes to the problem that we have.

“There needs to be action taken so that the agencies don’t abuse their power. We need to ensure that we have more full time staff within the NHS.

“If the Government is serious about resolving the problem we need to have a proper solution and strategy in place. We need a strategy to train and skill permanent people in the NHS.

“They have failed to do this in the past five years and they should have a bit more humility about how they will deal with this problem.”

Union bosses also criticised the Government.

Amy Barringer, UNISON’s North West head of health, said: “It’s wrong that private sector agencies have been able to make vast profits at the expense of NHS organisations through charging exorbitant fees. It is not the nurses but the agencies who are benefiting from this, and the Government must stop their profiteering.

“Inadequate Government funding in the last five years has put pressure on NHS trusts to employ too few permanent staff, and this has been shown to be a false economy. Directly-employed NHS staff are best positioned to provide high quality and consistent services, and are also better value for money.

“The Tory-led Government made a big error in 2010 in cutting the provision of training places for nurses. This has helped to create the shortage today. The Government needs a proper long-term plan for the NHS to ensure that the funding and staff are in place to provide quality services.”

But others have welcomed the health secretary’s plans.

The official Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust figures show £15.3m was spent on agency and contract staff in 2013/14, which compares to £12.m for the year ending March 2013.

Hospital bosses insisted that the trust, which posted a loss of £12.4m in accounts for 2013/14, was working hard to recruit permanent staff, but “national shortages of doctors and nurses” meant that the hospital had to look at temporary staffing.

Mark Menzies, Conservative MP for Fylde said: “The Health Secretary has been clear that the NHS needs to reduce the amount of money it spends on agency staff and use money more efficiently.

“Since May 2010, we already have more than 23,000 extra clinical permanent staff working in the NHS, including more than 9,000 extra doctors and more than 8,000 extra nurses. And the Government is committed to increasing health spending in real terms by a minimum of £8billion in the next Parliament to fully fund the NHS’s own plan for its future.”

Gary Doherty, Chief Executive of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The Trust welcomes all national initiatives to help reduce the costs of agency staff.

“We look forward to seeing more details prior to the planned implementation date of July 1.”