Headlines: September 6th, 2001

The Audit Commission has challenged the NHS’ reliance on bank and agency nurses – saying the staggering cost of such temporary nursing cover is not money well spent.The NHS in England has spent 810 million pounds in the last year on temporary nursing cover – an increase of 20 per cent. A further 18 million pounds has been spent on such cover in Wales.

In a new report – Brief Encounters – the commission says that while bank and agency nurses help the NHS maintain services by covering for staffing shortfalls, for patients it can mean poorer quality of care. It cites inadequate pre-employment checks, sometimes non-existent induction into a new working area and a lack of ongoing clinical practice training.

The report highlights one agency nurse usually working in nursing homes who was assigned to a busy hospital A&E department. She was unable to resuscitate an elderly patient who had a heart attack and stopped breathing – she had not attended basic life support training for more than three years.

The commission laments that it brought similar problems to light two years ago in a report on the use of locum doctors, but says the lessons have not been learned. It calls for a reduction in the numbers of temporary staff, and in the meantime for trusts to establish proper contractual arrangements with a limited number of suppliers to secure lower commission charges.

The Department of Health is about to publish new guidance on a more standardised approach to employing temporary staff.

Brief Encounters: Getting the best from temporary nursing staff (stock code HNR1839) is available from Audit Commission publications on 0800 502030, priced 20 pounds.