Background. Agency nursing is a poorly understood and under-researched phenomenon. Despite the considerable costs and possible benefits of using agency nurses, little is known about the nature of agency nursing from different perspectives, including hospital and agency managers.
Aim. To describe the professional relationship between hospitals and nursing agencies, utilization trends of agency nurses, and institutional policies relating to the employment of agency nurses.
Methods. A telephone survey was conveyed to managers of 70 acute hospitals (service purchasers) and 26 agencies (service providers) to provide baseline information on the utilization of agency nurses in acute hospitals in Melbourne, Australia. Introductory telephone calls were made to the chief nursing officers of the hospitals and the chief executive officers of nursing agencies in order to explain and seek approval for the proposed project. Approval to conduct telephone interviews was obtained from 30 acute hospitals and six agencies, representing a response rate of 43% and 23%, respectively. Separate questionnaires were used for the two categories of respondent. In some cases the questionnaire could not be completed using the telephone and a copy was then sent by post for completion.
Results. Findings revealed the high utilization of agency nurses in hospitals, the limited nature of continuing education for agency nurses, tensions between matching agency nurse qualifications with acute specialty needs and the notion that agencies preferred nurses to be flexible in their work assignments.
Conclusions. The study was limited by the fact that the final sample was small (30 hospitals and six agencies), and therefore may not be representative of the wider population of Melbourne hospitals or agencies. However, it provided evidence on the utilization of agency nurses in public and private hospitals that will help shape policy on the regulation of the agency nursing workforce.