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The new regulations mean that by April, NHS trusts will not have the means to pay agency staff, such as doctors and nurses, more than 55 per cent of normal wages for permanent staff.
Official figures have found that agency spending is one of the highest costs to NHS trusts and is putting increasing pressure on the health service’s finances.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the new spending cap would prevent agencies from ‘ripping of the NHS’.
However, agencies have argued that the real issue lies in a shortage of trained staff and enforcing spending cuts shows they are being ‘demonised’.
The agency spending cap was set out by the government in June, while plans detailing how the new rules would work were released last month. The cap was enforced following reports of agencies being paid thousands of pounds to supply nurses and doctors for shifts.
Spending figures show NHS trusts in England have overspent by £1.6 billion so far, an increase on the £930 million deficit in June.
Hunt maintained that agencies charging ‘extortionate hourly rates’ have cost billions of pounds per year and undermined staff working hard to deliver high-quality care.
He said: “The tough new controls on spending that we're putting in place will help the NHS improve continuity of care for patients and invest in the front line - while putting an end to the days of unscrupulous companies charging up to £3,500 a shift for a doctor.”
Professor Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals, insisted the introduction of a cap was the right thing to do. He said: “I welcome the fact that this is being phased in, allowing staff and trusts time to adjust and minimising any risks to patient safety. Close monitoring will allow us to assess the impact on individual trusts."