Royal Stoke aims to cut agency workers

Hospital bosses are hoping to cut their use of agency staff, following a successful recruitment drive. The vacancy rate University Hospitals of North Staffordshire fell to 7.9 per cent in February, down from a peak of 14 per cent at the end of 2022.

But the trust, which runs the Royal Stoke and County Hospital, still spent 3.31 per cent of its pay bill for the month on agency workers. And UHNM is not expecting its annual spend on agency staff to be below the national target of 3.7 per cent in 2023/24.

A report from the transformation and people committee says that this issue will 'continue to be a challenge' for the trust in 2024/25, with NHS England setting a lower target of 3.2 per cent for the year. Chief people officer Jane Haire told a trust board meeting that the human resources department would now look to focus on reducing the spend on agency staff, in addition to keeping the vacancy rate down.

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She said: "We have been challenged at the transformation and people committee to consider putting in a stretch target for our vacancy metric, so that we can continue to ensure we have drive and momentum on this and we stay at eight per cent or even lower. But also, thinking about our financial position, we will be shining a light on the agency and bank expenditure now that we've got a much fuller workforce, to ensure we are only engaging where it is essential to do so."

Trust chairman David Wakefield suggested that managers could monitor the use of agency staff as new permanent workers are recruited. He said: "When we recruit, say, another 10 or 15 nurses or doctors into an area, are we checking that the agency numbers do actually come down?"

Ms Haire said: "Over the course of the last six months we have been meeting all of the divisions to identify where the agency expenditure is coming from. We can see by staff group where the prevalence is, and by area also. It's not being done on a ward-by-ward basis we are looking at the whole holistically, and that is moving into a broader conversation around activity, finance and workforce, and agency will come into play within that."

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