If the frameworks that the NHS uses to procure temporary staff remain focused only on buying the cheapest option, quality of care may suffer, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).

In a letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matthew Hancock, Britain’s leading recruitment body sounded an alarm bell over the NHS’s ability to maintain high quality care at affordable prices.

Pointing to the high level of cost savings that agencies have already delivered for the health service, REC Chief Executive Neil Carberry said: “Increasingly, agency providers deliver at rates below [those of] NHS banks” and noted that “fees paid to agencies have come down substantially as we reach the fourth year of caps”.

Firms with high standards are increasingly finding they that they cannot afford to work with the health service, he continued, and agencies leaving the market mean staff shortages that will cost more to fill through high cost, emergency routes.

In the letter, the REC points out that where government enforces unrealistic frameworks it creates instability and an unsustainable market which always leads to higher costs for the taxpayer in the long term.

“Government learned from the Carillion collapse what happens when unsustainable contracts are forced through by public procurement — only firms willing to take uneconomic business remain,” it said. “Some recent procurements are pitched at levels that are likely to drive firms to exit NHS on-framework supply.”

The REC has asked the Secretary of State to engage with NHS staffing partners and its health and social care sector members to find a solution which involves delivering high standards of patient care and avoiding gaps in service or very high cost emergency options.

Last reviewed 15 November 2019