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APSCo slams Jeremy Hunt for sham consultation agency workers’ price caps

Trusts could be in breach of contract- patient safety will be compromised

The Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), the trade body which represents recruitment firms operating in professional sectors, has accused Jeremy Hunt of a sham consultation on NHS agency worker price caps which came into force yesterday, 23 November – a move that will seriously compromise patient safety – and expose Trusts to legal risk.

“The consultation on proposed price caps for NHS agency workers closed on Friday 13 November – I cannot see how the responses can have been collated, read ,considered and decisions made within five working days of the consultation closing – this is a complete sham,” said Samantha Hurley, Head of External Relations & Compliance at APSCo. “This is just another example of Mr Hunt riding roughshod over professional opinion and common sense. At best it displays a total ignorance of the staffing issues being faced by the Department he heads up – at worst it is headline grabbling political posturing.”

In its own response to the consultation APSCo points out that it supports the Government’s efforts to control expenditure – and in principle also supports the introduction of price caps but feels that the Government is trying to do too much too soon.

“The Government initiative to mandate the use of framework agreements was already having a positive effect on the sector and Trusts have been liaising well with our members to remove their off framework expenditure,” adds Hurley. “It would make much more sense to wait and quantify the savings from this measure before pushing on with rules which will not only affect patient safety but also expose Trusts to legal risks of breaches of contract. This is because there are existing contracts in place for supply at specific rates which are likely to run beyond today’s date and to avoid legal challenges notice periods will have to be given. It is clear that Mr Hunt just hasn’t thought this through and our members are telling us that NHS Trusts are expressing real concern about how they will fulfil these requirements.

“Even more concerning is that these caps will put patient safety at risk because they will destabilise the quality and continuity of flexible staffing into the NHS. The consultation document stated that the price caps are intended to ‘encourage staff to return to permanent and bank working.’ This is simply naïve. Agency workers within the NHS work flexibly because their family life or lifestyle does not allow them to work permanently. Taking away flexibility means that not only will Trusts be unable to fulfil their staffing requirements because temporary staff will move away from the NHS, but also the quality, safeguarding and compliance of staff will suffer. What does not appear in the headlines about agency staff is that recruitment firms undertake a level of compliance and safeguarding in excess of the NHS’ own standards – which currently costs the agency between £300 and £450 per worker. The price caps will make this level of expenditure unsustainable.”

“The Government’s answer to patient safety levels is a loophole in the price cap rules which allow caps to be ‘overridden in the interests of patient safety’ – this is likely to become the norm and the result will be a ‘black market’ of off framework expenditure –which will increase, rather than reduce agency spend.”

“Despite engaging with the Department of Health some months ago to offer the benefit of our and our members’ knowledge and experience of working on large public sector procurement contracts, to help the Department find practical solutions to the NHS’ current staffing predicament, Mr Hunt has consistently ignored us preferring to indulge in knee jerk reactions – reactions which are likely to destabilise an already fragile sector.”


Tracey Barrett
01582 790702

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