Fears over impact on patients as health trusts ordered to cut agency nursing expenditure

File photo dated 03/10/14 of a hospital ward as nurses are seeking debt advice and increasingly turn

File photo dated 03/10/14 of a hospital ward as nurses are seeking debt advice and increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders, a union has warned. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday September 2, 2015. Figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) showed nurses were asking for help with debts, bankruptcy and homelessness. See PA story HEALTH Nurses. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Norfolk's NHS hospital trusts have been ordered to cut spending on temporary nurses in the next four years – prompting concerns over patient treatment and waiting times.

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The announcement comes as NHS spending on agency staff rose to around £3.3bn last year, and is the first of a set of new crackdowns to help health trusts improve their finances.

But the new rules will pose a challenge for our county's trusts as all but one spent the maximum amount or more in the last financial year, according to figures obtained by the EDP.

NHS Foundation Trusts for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals (N&N), James Paget University Hospitals (JPH), the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn (QEH), and mental health organisation Norfolk and Suffolk (NSFT) all face significant cost-cutting. Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: 'I am confident that the people in charge of the NHS trusts in Norfolk would not consciously put patients at risk, but the need to bring spiralling agency costs under control may mean longer waiting times for treatment or a more restricted service offer. This in turn could have a real impact on patient health and wellbeing.'

Under the new rules, announced by government health regulator Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, health trusts have been set financial targets annually for the next four years on how much they can spend on agency nurses and midwives.


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This amount is calculated by giving trusts individual percentages of their overall nursing budget to spend on temporary staff.

The N&N spent around 6pc (£5.8m) of their nursing budget on agency nurses last year and must reduce costs down to 3pc by April 2019. A spokesman said the trust aimed to reduce the need for agency staff by recruiting student nurses from local universities. Agency nurses were a 'last resort', the spokesman added.

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JPH director of nursing Liz Libiszewski said the trust had a 'recruitment plan' to hire staff locally and nationally. 'The trust is working towards implementing a more streamlined process to manage the supply of agency staff,' she said.

NSFT's finance director John Doyle said the trust were reviewing how to meet the target and couldn't comment further.

Catherine Morgan, director of nursing at QEL, said: 'The trust will employ agency staff when required to ensure safe staffing levels in the short term while continuing on its recruitment drive.'

Mr Stewart said: 'Trying to bring costs associated with agency staff under control will be a real challenge for our hospitals but it's one they need to face up to.

'I think they accept that.'

Have you got a health story? Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

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