NHS Procurement – Staffing Agency Partnerships, Not “Rip-Offs”

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We are pleased to publish this post from Mike Lander, a Managing Partner of 4C Associates, a leading procurement services company, who has worked as NED and business consultant in the NHS.

There has been plenty of media coverage recently about the need for a “clamp down on some of the staffing agencies ripping off the NHS.” As a procurement professional who has worked as both a Non-Executive Director (NED) and business consultant in the NHS, it saddens me to believe that an essential part of the workforce supply chain (nursing and doctor staffing agencies) are seen to be the devil’s work.

The reality in my experience is that, although yes, there are some agencies that have seized the commercial opportunity to maximise their leverage by building strong relationships with both demand (hospitals) and supply (nurses and doctors), these examples merely play to the gallery. The reality is that staffing agencies play a vital role (and always will) in the supply chain to ensure shifts are filled by high-quality, qualified nurses and doctors, and I am not convinced that the proposed “price cap” initiative that recently went out to consultation is the whole answer.

One of the material and tangible problems stems from a lack of consistent, easily accessible and live information about worker pay rates, agency fee rates, release times, fill rates, etc. One of the answers I believe is to build regional/national “agency rate card analyzer tools” to provide all stakeholders (ward managers, operations directors, commercial directors, CEOs, etc.) with instant access to the performance and cost of their agency supplied workers. This “always-on” access to data-driven insights will enable people at a local level to make more informed choices about which agencies they should be partnering with, and which agencies are consistently “gaming the system.”

Another compounding problem is an incessant cry from the mainstream media and other stakeholder groups to “change the system” rather than trying to solve problems in local collaborations. My extensive experience from another public sector area, education, taught me that the best way for a system to change, is by facilitating localised “peer-to-peer” learning environments enabling everyone to learn from each other as to what will work best given the local conditions in that geography.

So, my key recommendations would be to:

  • Adopt big data analytical tools to understand agency rates, improve shift fill rates and maintain high-quality standards of care.
  • Form new, regional, staffing agency partner programmes under a revised framework agreement that ensure high-quality smaller staffing agencies can work with local hospitals to deliver quality at an affordable and fair rate.
  • Form workforce productivity collaboratives (as recommended in the Carter report) to focus on collective demand profiles for temporary nurses and doctors in order to build collaborative workforce deployment models with staffing agencies.

By introducing such measures, we can turn what has become a 'witch hunt' against NHS staffing agencies into a system that utilises data positively to form a more collaborative, positive working partnership between NHS hospitals and staffing agencies both nationally and locally.

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  1. Mark Lainchbury:

    And train more Nurses obvs..

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