While the free market facilitates competition, and this is viewed as healthy, I believe it has no place in healthcare. If you were in any doubt, look at the current example of nursing agencies blatantly profiteering from the shortage of nurses in health and social care. While the NHS pays nurses £16.52 an hour, these agencies are charging three times that, demanding upwards of £52 an hour.
Nursing agencies are private businesses that have a pool of nurses they can call on at short notice. The NHS and social care sector have always relied on these agencies to fill staffing shortfalls in hospital wards and in community care teams. But now these agencies are exploiting the record number of NHS and social care vacancies – more than one in 10 posts are unfilled – and this is having a significant impact on how care is delivered.
Hospitals are struggling to discharge patients, as demonstrated by recent reports of paramedics unable to hand over patients to hospitals in a timely way. The lack of space in residential homes means patients needing care are unable to be discharged from hospital. Some innovative hospitals are redeploying their nursing staff into these residential units to provide care so that they can discharge their hospital patients into these homes and free up beds. Although this is clearly not sustainable in the long term, as these hospital wards also need to be staffed, it demonstrates the desperation of hospital management in trying to break this circular conundrum.
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