Nursing bank plan will keep wards stocked with nurses

A national "nursing bank"
has been welcomed by healthcare HR managers as a way of saving money and
improving the quality of agency staff.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has
unveiled plans for a nationally coordinated NHS nursing agency to help provide
nurses, midwives and health visitors for hospitals with staff shortages.

The bank, to be called NHS
Professionals, will attract retired nurses and those who want to work more
flexibly to a central pool which will then be available to hospitals around the
country.

Many nurses have left the NHS or
gone to work for private agencies because the pay is better and they can work
more flexible hours. The NHS spent £272m in 1998 on employing nurses from
agencies to work in the health service.

Sally Storey, president of the Association
of Healthcare Human Resources Managers, said, "We welcome any move to
boost staffing levels nationally. Many hospitals already run their own banks,
which use nurses who want to work part-time or do overtime, and these help to
keep nurses within the NHS.

"I would expect a national
system to have an impact on costs, in that it would save the NHS paying for
agency nurses, and also on quality of staff, as bank staff tend to have more
loyalty and commitment to the NHS."

Christine Hancock, general secretary
of the Royal College of Nursing, said, "The setting up of NHS
Professionals shows just how deep shortages are, but the new NHS agency should
serve to drive up standards – good news for nurses and patients.

"Nurses will welcome the opportunity
to have more say over their working hours. But NHS trusts shouldn’t assume this
lets them off the hook – they will need to provide flexible ways of working for
their permanent staff to make sure they keep them."

At the chief nursing officer’s conference
in Brighton earlier this month, Blair said that if it was to retain and recruit
staff, the NHS had to be seen as a good employer. "Helping staff to manage
the work-life balance is not just socially responsible, it is an economic
necessity," he said.

The first phase will be set up in
15 areas, but will soon be rolled out to the rest of the country.

By Paul Dinsdale

Living
allowance ‘discriminatory’

Nurses in London and the South East
are to receive a £1,000 allowance to reflect higher accommodation and living
costs.

But the move has been attacked by
unions representing health service workers for creating a two-tier system among
NHS employees.

Prime Minister Tony Blair made the
announcement at the recent chief nursing officer’s conference in Brighton.

But Paul Marks, Unison national
secretary for health, said, "This is a totally discriminatory pay award
which will hit the morale of health workers across the country. Local pay
top-ups are not the way to tackle the national staffing crisis. The best way to
make working in the NHS attractive is to pay all staff a decent basic salary,
not to rob one area of the country to pay for top-up allowances in another, and
shift recruitment and retention difficulties from one place to another."

The Government is also understood
to be keen to agree pay awards with some key public sector professions such as
nursing before Christmas to avert any damaging clashes with the professions.

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