More robust NHS workforce planning needed, finds Healthier Recruitment research

The NHS needs better workforce planning to move away from relying on a short-term approach to recruiting staff.

According to an analysis by healthcare staffing specialist Healthier Recruitment, England’s 127 NHS Mental Health Trusts could each be losing an average of £270k a year through using agency healthcare support workers (HCSWs) rather than bringing on board permanent staff – despite hiring within approved staffing frameworks

The research found that, at any one time, a typical Mental Health Trust has 20 Band 2 and Band 3 vacancies to fill. Covering each of these vacancies with an agency worker, at an average cost of £15.78 an hour for 37 hours a week, equates to £140k over a 10-week period – or £700k over 50 weeks.

In contrast, bringing on board 20 permanent Band 3 HCSWs, each with an annual salary of £19,854, costs 40% less over a 12-month period: £421k including fees and NI contributions.

Commenting on Healthier Recruitment’s analysis, managing director Michael Johnson-Ellis said: “The introduction of agency caps in late 2015 has no doubt had a positive impact on reducing staffing costs, with the vast majority of agency spend now channelled through approved frameworks. However, many NHS Trusts could benefit from putting in place more robust workforce planning strategies to further improve efficiencies.

“In our experience, the majority of hiring managers within the NHS instinctively turn to agency workers to plug gaps quickly, particularly at this Band level. But there needs to be a change of mind-set if we are to move away from this short-term approach to recruitment.

“By planning workforces strategically, Trusts can concentrate on recruiting candidates who not only provide quality care in the short term, but who also have aspirations to develop and grow within the organisation.

“Ultimately, taking this approach results in both a more stable workforce and reduced agency reliance.”

Also commenting on the findings, Olivia Spruce, chief operating officer at Positive Healthcare, said: “The staffing shortages within the NHS as a whole, with a significant emphasis on the Mental Health sector, are chronic and frankly speaking, are continuing to deepen. 

“The current workforce is inadequately staffed to deal with the ever increasing, challenging demands of a healthcare sector under serious strain. A lack of government commitment towards continued and sustained funding, coupled with the failure to deal with a totally demoralised permanent workforce, have all contributed to this crisis. 

“In a resource-limited culture, where the retention of permanent staff and attraction of new staff is still not being addressed with any meaningful, robust plan, locum healthcare workers form an integral part of the current workforce. 

“In a scenario where the choice sits between having no healthcare support due to inadequate cover verses an experienced agency healthcare worker, at an elevated cost who is available at the last minute to deliver the best care, I don't know a single patient or family member who wouldn't choose the latter option. Patient care should always be the principle driver. Better workforce planning would inevitably reduce this cost but there is a systematic failure to address the key issues.”

In response a Department of Health and Social Care Spokesperson said in a statement: “The overall number of NHS staff working in mental health has increased and we have already set out plans to create 21,000 new posts in priority areas by 2020/21.

“In the last year we have supported the NHS to save £700m on agency staff spending and we are taking forward work with NHS Improvement to further reduce the agency bill and help trusts become more efficient and collaborative.”

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