In an investigation lead by the Nursing Times it was found that trusts have had to exceed the pay caps for agency staff over the past few months owing to a shortage of nursing staff. The cap was introduced to attempt to limit the reliance on highly paid short term staff placements but this does not appear to have had the desired effect.
On average trusts exceeded the pay caps approximately 60 times a week and 20 trusts have breached the cap more than 100 times a week. Nottingham University Hospitals Trust reported exceeding the agency pay cap an average of 427 times a week. It was also found that 25 trusts applied to increase the total amount they could spend on agency staff; with 19 of those trusts being granted an increase.
The overriding sentiment within the Trusts that provided data for the investigation was that patient safety was key. Trusts stated that whilst staying within agency pay cap considerations was important, patient safety remains the primary consideration.
The continual inability of Trusts to operate within the new agency pay cap guidelines brings to light the shortage of nurses in the UK to cover demand. The Royal College of Nursing recently voiced concerns over the shortage of UK nurses with over 23,000 vacancies being unfulfilled at present and marking an increase by 50% from the position in 2013. In light of the nursing vacuum agency companies and locum staff step in to fill the void; the agency cap was designed to overcome this issue. The findings demonstrate that Trusts will not sacrifice patient safety to keep within agency pay cap guidelines and it is clear that more needs to be done to address the root cause of the use of agency staff.09