New Framework for agency staff provision

Date published: 09 May 2023

A new Nursing and Healthcare Support Framework has been established for the supply of agency nurses, midwives and healthcare support workers

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A phased implementation will now take place across the system with effect from 15 May 2023.

The Framework is a vital step in delivering a reduction in agency staff costs incurred by the health service in Northern Ireland. It establishes a pool of approved suppliers who will provide agency staff when required at pre-agreed payment rates, set by contract.

When agency staff are needed, Trusts will only be permitted to source agency nurses, midwives and healthcare support workers from this list of suppliers, who have successfully tendered to be included in the Framework. They were each assessed on three key factors: quality, price and social value.

The use of staff supplied by “off contract” agencies – those not covered by contractual arrangements  - has fuelled an unsustainable rise in agency costs over the last 10 years.

In October 2022, the then Health Minister Robin Swann announced plans to eliminate all “off contract” nursing agency spend. This new Framework is key in helping Trusts achieve this objective.

In his statement last October, the Minister said that ”off contract” expenditure is not a cost-effective use of tax payers’ money, and can lead to a lack of workforce continuity with the potential to undermine safe care.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May today said: “I very much welcome the establishment of this new Framework, which will put the provision of agency workers on a firmer footing.

“Some degree of agency use will always be required in an organisation the size of our Health Service. Fluctuation in demand means additional ad hoc resources are needed at times in order to support the delivery of safe and effective care.

“Agency expenditure has been rising rapidly and the health service is facing a period of unprecedented budgetary pressures. Reducing agency spend is the right thing to do, and not just for cost reasons. Our staff have told us that excessive agency use is unfair and impacts on morale. It is also the case that consistent clinical teams enhance patient safety.”

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