Hundreds of millions of pounds could be freed up for front-line care if the NHS were to cut back on its use of agency staff, according to NHS Improvement.

The NHS could re-direct up to £480 million into services and improve patient care if trusts filled temporary vacancies with workers from a ‘staff bank’ instead of using expensive staffing agencies, the agency said.

This is because temporary staff cost on average 20% more than those from the NHS’ own ‘staff banks’, despite doing the exact same job, it stressed.

“Bank staff cost the NHS less than agency staff and could improve a patient's continuity of care. That is why we want trusts to take a bank first approach, and only use agency staff as a last resort,” said NHS Improvement chief executive Ian Dalton.

“Temporary agency workers play an important role in ensuring staffing numbers remain at a level that provides the best possible care for patients and gives them the opportunity to work flexibly. But an over-reliance on high cost private agencies when there are other options available is not good for patients or for the NHS’s finances.”

“It is better for patients to have the continuity of care from existing staff picking up additional shifts, rather than using agency workers,” added health minister Steve Barclay.

“Not only is the patient experience improved, but moving away from relying on paying expensive agency staff also means that the NHS saves money.”

The NHS has already slashed spending on agency workers by a third (£1.2 billion) since NHS Improvement introduced a cap on the cost in 2015.

The agency is calling on all trusts to take a ‘bank first’ approach when recruiting temporary staff, and reduce agency costs by 17% for 2018/19.