The Health Secretary, landlubber Jeremy Hunt, has blasted strict new rules into the port bows of ‘iceberg’ staffing agencies “ripping off the NHS.
The threat? ‘First officer’ junior doctors abandoning ship due to slogging without extra grog for evening and week-end working. Up to as many as 1600 junior docs are seeking work abroad according to UK news’ anchors.
Closer to home in Kent, KMPT, the local mental health NHS trust is to stop nurses doing agency shifts. This is part of the wider Admiralty (Department of Health) plans to reduce reliance on part-time agency staff. But maybe nurses and doctors are abandoning the Titanic in favor of a more bountiful existence in the private sector for good reason?
Mark Porter, British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman, said the reliance on agency staff was “a sign of stress on the system and the result of poor staffing planning by the Government. Increasingly, locums are employed as hospitals can’t attract staff to take up full-time posts, so we need to address the root causes of the recruitment and retention problem in many parts of the NHS, especially emergency medicine.”
With nursing staff feeling they are being punished for the mistakes of the Government who, paradoxically, have reduced NHS services – and used private hospitals. Many nurses now, regardless of agency-use, actually work full-time in the rapidly expanding private sector. The seascape has changed so much the reactionary government policies are too late.
And many believe Government’s Napoleonic attacks demonstrate a wider devaluing of the public sector that has seen many years of recent cutbacks. Politically there has been a view that large swathes of the public workforce were never going to vote Tory, so nurses were an obvious target for the cannons firing from the starboard side.
Peter Carter, the chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said, cutlass in hand: “The health service needs to focus on the root cause of this problem, not just the symptoms. A lack of investment in nurse training and cuts to nurse numbers mean that trusts now have no choice but to pay over the odds for agency staff and recruiting overseas.” Overseas? Aye Aye Captain!
As such the cuts in nursing staffing and training have deepened the wounds of nurses voting with their tired feet to seek self-employment with agencies. Surely this ought to be virtuous from a Tory perspective?
On social media, health service workers accused Mr Hunt of failing to address the “real problem”.
“The decision to cut 6,000 nursing posts in the early years of the last parliament, alongside big reductions in nurse training places, has left the NHS in the grip of private staffing agencies. The Tory government is responsible for this monumental waste of NHS resources.”
And what about the declining value of working in the public sector? The days of final-salary schemes and fabulous pensions are over and staff are having to work until they are 67 or 68.
Incentives to work in the NHS have long faded and many feel the Government is cynically manipulating the NHS by cutting nursing to help pave the way for more cuts and privatisation. The old Labour loyalty to the NHS, ultimately a baby-boomer phenomenon, has gone.
In its place the Health Secretary, like Captain Pugwash, is playing on the idea of the old National Health Service being exploited by gangs of pirate agency staff. The result? Public shock horror but the Captain is withholding oranges to cause scurvy amongst the men.
Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, said: “Jeremy Hunt is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by acting as if the £3 billion agency bill is a problem he has suddenly discovered. The truth is that it is a problem created by Tory mismanagement of the NHS.”