Thousands of agency workers set to leave NHS and care roles

Thousands of agency staff could leave the NHS and social care services in the next two years, new research has suggested.

More than 20,000 agency staff work across health and social care in the UK – but now a poll of 10,000 workers has revealed that nearly one in five could leave their job by 2026.

In the poll, carried out by consultancy Acacium Group, 24 per cent of those surveyed reported feeling overstretched at work.

Key reasons for agency workers wanting to leave the NHS and social care included concerns over poor working conditions leading to staff burnout, and a lack of support from managers.

A third of workers surveyed said their main driver for doing agency work is the flexibility of hours, and 9 per cent said it was the work-life balance.

Olivia Swain, 29, who has worked as an agency paediatric nurse in the North East since 2019 after moving from a permanent NHS role, told researchers: “While I love my job, the transition into a flexible role has its challenges. You have to learn to adapt quickly. Sometimes I don’t have a login or password for computer systems or swipe access cards, which can be incredibly obstructive and puts undue pressure on colleagues.

“This can be a particular issue if I need quick access to patient records or to complete a referral.”

A third of workers surveyed said their main driver for doing agency work is the flexibility of hours
A third of workers surveyed said their main driver for doing agency work is the flexibility of hours (PA Archive)

Data for the NHS suggests it had 125,572 vacancies as of June 2023 and, according to think tank the Nuffield Trust, an estimated four in five vacancies are being filled by temporary staff, either through privately run outside agencies or the in-house NHS agency workers.

The think tank’s analysis of NHS data also suggested that, on any given day, there are 1,400 doctor vacancies unfilled by temporary staff and around 8,000 to 12,000 gaps in nursing provision.

The findings from Acacium Group come amid a crackdown by the NHS on the use of agency staff. Earlier this year, The Independent revealed that a London trust had stopped paying enhanced rates to agency workers in the middle of winter.

Mike Barnard, the CEO of Acacium Group, said: “The health and social care system depends on flexible workers to deliver essential services. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their permanent colleagues and are sometimes one and the same, with many full-time employees also engaging in flexible work.

“With widespread challenges across the health and social care sector, we must all come together as one. We need to make sure this crucial part of the workforce is fully supported to deliver the care patients need.”

An NHS England spokesperson said: “While this report found that most flexible healthcare workers want to remain working in the sector, we know there is more to do to better support and retain our hardworking staff.

“It is right that the NHS looks after all of its staff, including agency and bank workers, which is why there are support offers in place, and as part of the NHS long-term workforce plan we’ve taken action to improve working conditions, including increasing choice and flexibility, reducing unnecessary admin time so clinicians can spend more time treating patients, and making it easier for retired staff to return on a flexible basis.”