Having just dusted myself off from the recent IR35 developments I cant say that I was ready to be informed about NHSi’s recent guidelines. We currently represent over 2,000 RGNs, RMNs, ODPs and HCAs and I genuinely feel that recently, all we furnish them with is bad news and more restrictions on how they live their lives. Agencies and agency workers have had a bad rep for a long time, and I’ll admit – some agencies have really taken the biscuit with NHS funds, but there are agencies that want to work with the frameworks, work with Monitor and NHSi and above all work WITH the NHS. We are more than aware that without them – we don’t have a business, but people do need to understand that we are still a business.

There are tons of businesses that work closely with the public sector that haven’t had this level of battery – will they? I don’t know … but it does seem that the Government seem to be forgetting about Angela who works part time hours for the NHS because she has two kids and needs to be flexible, and now and then picks up an agency shift to pay for a school trip. She can’t earn this on the Nurse Banks and she can’t get this from overtime, but she is a skilled worker for this sector. She could get another job at a shop or a factory – but wouldn’t that be a waste of her education and training? Wouldn’t it be better for that knowledge to be used on one of our over-stretched wards? Maybe give a full time member of staff a night off?

My genuine belief here is that the Government is trying to punish agencies – “the bad guys”! But this is really punishing the Nurses – again. Most agencies are working hard to adhere to constant changes. We really are! We have been told what we can charge. Fine – yes let’s stop agencies ripping off the NHS. We have been told what we can make in gross margin, or our cut – OK … we will work with that, but then we were told what we can also PAY the nurse. And now we’re being told that the nurse can’t work where they like, when they like. Dear, oh dear… let’s not forget – when we can’t fill the role by complying with these rules, the NHS still chooses to call agencies that don’t adhere to any of these rules. Making the game so much more difficult to manage and blatantly unfair.

I love our NHS and long may it continue! I am confused as to how they are going to police this new guideline. Our job as an agency is to appropriately screen and check our staff. As many of you know, there is tons of paperwork to be done and it costs us the agency in the region of £300 per worker before they have even gone and done a shift for us. We ask where they currently work, collect references etc, but at the moment there is no way or resource for the NHS to check that an agency Nurse is also an NHS worker. Do they think that all agencies will volunteer this information correctly? Some Nurse Banks we work with currently have trouble telling us who does and doesn’t work for their trust at the moment – let alone the whole of the NHS. There is then the issues of Data protection here? Is someone creating a list somewhere of every NHS worker? That could be worth quite a few pounds if in the wrong hands!

Let me reiterate that I am all for working to the rules. I like rules. We loved it when Monitor, now NHSi, first introduced capped rates. BINGO! The field was set for level playing! It all became about service and what each agency could offer to the nurses and HCAs so that they would use them. As a business we actually had growth from this. We loved it. But now I feel that things are going too far. I am sure the people in their ivory castles have considered patient safety and everything involved in this decision, but I can’t help but feel for those hospitals whose staffing has just been potentially halved. We have had to report to a Trust that we now can’t send 15 workers that typically assist them on a regular basis – they went mad! They had waiting lists dependent on those nurses being in the theatre and then having to tell the nurse that he/she wouldn’t be getting those shifts was the second blow.

In my opinion this will only encourage NHS staff to leave the NHS. Faith and loyalty is slowly dwindling and this is such a shame as everyone I speak to and work with loves our NHS and what it has achieved and what it stands for. We love it with pride. As a result of this, Bluestones Medical is offering various flexible ways to remain working at agency level. We have had to carefully design things as quickly as we could, but we believe we have come up with a great solution to suit everyone and the changes that are thrust upon us. We have thought about Angela who just needs to pay for that school trip, but also the guys who make a career out of this industry – there should be no shame in it!

Feedback from the guys on the front line; your ward managers, sisters and clinical site managers are that they’re baffled. They feel that we are just keeping our heads above water at the moment and we continue to kick people when they are down. It is a telling time and I have great confidence that the NHS will bounce back – but at what cost?