Monitor has announced new measures decided to support trusts across the NHS in managing workforce challenges.
According to the healthcare regulator, data acquired by Monitor just last week on Q1 trust and foundation trust financial performance highlighted the need for concerted further action in the coming months and years.
This data indicated that the NHS is likely to face a deficit of at least £2 billion in the existing financial year.
In particular, Monitor has stated that it is important to address workforce challenges.
Thus, it is critical, according to the regulator, to address the rapid growth of spending on agencies, and to develop a more holistic approach to staffing decisions.
With this in mind, the healthcare regulator has announced that it is to take two important steps in order to address the situation.
These have been taken with the support of the national system leaders in the NHS, and it is hoped that this will enable healthcare professionals throughout the system to meet these challenges more effectively.
A joint letter from Sir Mike Richards, Mike Durkin, Jane Cummings, Sir Andrew Dillon and Ed Smith, has already been distributed to NHS employees, setting out Monitor’s view on how providers should approach the need to ensure safe, quality care for patients on a sustained, financially stable basis.
It was also considered important in the content of the letter to reinforce the need to use guidance and best practices in order to support local judgements regarding the best usage of resources.
Following on from this letter, Monitor has been encouraged by providers to take urgent national measures in order to address pay for agency staff.
It is hoped that this would help encourage workers back into substantive roles within the NHS.
Considering this to be an important issue for the health service, the health regulator has just taken the decision to accelerate the timescale regarding this process.
Subject to consultation, Monitor proposes to introduce hourly prices for agency staff across all staff groups, namely doctors, nurses and all other clinical and non-clinical staff.
Subject to the consultation process, the price caps would ratchet down in two further stages so that from 1st April, 2016, agency staff would not be paid any more than the equivalent substantive worker.
The intention is to put this process in place by 23rd November, 2015.
All trusts would be expected to limit and reduce their spending on agency staff over time, and Monitor will continue to work closely with all trusts to monitor and limit levels of agency use across the sector as the measures are implemented.
The proposed price caps have been developed with, and are fully supported by, clinical leaders in Monitor, TDA, Care Quality Commission (CQC) and NHS England.
Clearly action needs to be taken in order to address the huge deficit that the NHS faces, but many critics of government policy will suggest that increased funding would be more effective than cost-cutting, regardless of the legitimacy of these measures.