Like many industries, the health and social care sector has been through some turbulent times recently; not least with the recent introduction of the apprenticeship levy, gender pay reporting and reforms to IR35. It comes as welcome relief, therefore, that NHS Improvement (NHSI) have agreed to ‘pause’ the introduction of new rules which would have prevented substantive staff from working additional agency shifts.
Following pressure from the REC and the Royal College of Nursing, NHSI have agreed to suspend the introduction of these controversial new measures. Members were deeply concerned that these new rules would only make the NHS staffing crisis worse, and that patient safety would ultimately suffer.
As soon as the new rules were announced in February by Jim Mackey, Chief Executive of NHS Improvement, we immediately wrote to them to seek clarification on the scope of the rules and how they would be implemented. Director of Policy Tom Hadley, spoke at a NHS Staffing Conference to raise concerns of our members, and we issued a policy update on our website with a survey link for members to provide feedback.
The REC then held two meetings with NHS Improvement in March to discuss the proposed ban. Our survey of 199 healthcare recruitment businesses found that in 48 per cent of agencies, more than half of the temporary nurses, doctors, and allied health professionals on their books were also employed substantively in the NHS. Had this new ban been implemented, 77 per cent said they expected the candidates on their books to prioritise finding work in the private sector rather than the NHS, and 56 per cent said some nurses and doctors would stop working additional shifts in the NHS altogether.
Armed with this data and feedback, the REC wrote to NHSI urging them to delay the introduction of the rules in order to allow time for proper consultation with all the relevant stakeholders. We also liaised with the Royal College of Nursing and issued a press release to the media highlighting our concerns that the Department of Health was putting this before patient safety; and that trusts up and down the country would not be able to cover shifts.
NHS Improvement’s U-turn is evidence of the powerful lobbying voice that the REC has – especially when members can provide evidence and are passionate in defending the reputation of our vital sector; and when we work in partnership and consultation with other stakeholders.