Recruitment Agencies Caught in the Crossfire

This June saw recruitment agencies hitting the headlines as part of an NHS scandal. The story being told in many places was that recruitment agencies were charging vastly unfair rates to meet emergency NHS staffing needs, and as a result Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt introduced new rules to guide the interactions between NHS and recruitment agencies. But why has this suddenly hit the news, and how much of it was blown out of proportion?

Rules Already In Place

One of the commonly glossed over facts during this discussion has been the fact that rules already existed for the NHS and the terms for how it used agency workers. Conditions like pay, working hours and how they are decided are already set out in contracts which the NHS provides to recruitment agencies, so the idea that recruiters could be setting the terms to their advantage doesn’t make sense.

New sources chose to focus on some of the larger figures offered to agency workers, but didn’t approach the reasons for the figures being so large, or how common payments like those were. For incredibly specialist doctors, in cases of emergency and during unsociable hours, it’s not unlikely that payments might be set quite high by necessity. The idea that every doctor or even nurse was being charged at such high rates is often implied during these discussions, but certainly not true.

Adding on the costs which recruitment agencies must meet in order to find the appropriate worker, check their qualifications, run background checks etc. makes these figures appear even higher, but ignores the fact that these costs would usually be met by the NHS themselves.

Growing Need for Doctors & Nurses

Of course, this doesn’t approach the reasons for so many recruitment agencies being used in the first place, and neither do the news articles surrounding them. The focus has been very much on agencies supposedly taking advantage of the situation, but no thought has been spared to why the situation exists in the first place.

The fact that the NHS are using agencies shows that there is a growing lack of staff within the institution itself. Recruitment agencies aren’t placing workers through coercion, but because the NHS needs them. The government’s new rules might create a situation whereby the NHS doesn’t use recruitment agencies as much, but this doesn’t address the root problem that many doctors and nurses are preferring to work by agency placement rather than full time on the NHS.

The reasons for this are many, but the main point is that the vilification of recruitment agencies is focusing on the wrong problems. If the only way to find doctors and nurses is to use recruiters, then the question should be why that is the case, not how it can be prevented.

Scapegoat for NHS Problems

Ultimately, it appears that the media is distorting reality in order to create a scandal where no scandal exists. Facts are overlooked and so are the reasons behind this growing trend. Whatever the purpose is, and whether or not it is intentional, it is clear that recruitment agencies are on the wrong side of media attention for problems they haven’t caused and implications that aren’t quite accurate. The main hope is that this attitude doesn't spread to the use of recruitment agencies in general, just as most businesses are beginning to see their benefits.

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