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Temporary nursing staff – cost and quality issues


K. Hurst: e-mail:


hurst k. & smith a. (2011) Temporary nursing staff – cost and quality issues. Journal of Advanced Nursing67(2), 287–296.


Aim.  This paper is a report of a comparative study of temporary and permanent staff work activity, cost and quality of care.

Background.  Temporary nurse staffing can consume significant proportions of the health service wages bill, and this is unlikely to fall owing to recruitment and retention problems, high sickness absence and the tendency for staff to work ‘casually’. If temporary workers are here to stay, then what impact do they have on inpatient care? For example, do ward nursing quality and costs change when temporary staff are employed?

Method.  Ward patient dependency, nursing activity, workload, staffing and data on quality were collected using non-participant observation, document analysis, staff and patient interviews in 605 United Kingdom general and specialist wards between 2004 and 2009. These wards were divided into two groups: 368 employing only permanent staff during data collection and 237 with permanent, and temporary staff in the ward team at the time when the observations were made.

Findings.  Workloads and time out (sickness absence, etc.) in wards employing temporary staff were greater than in units with permanent staff only, thereby justifying hiring short-term staff. Wards with temporary and permanent staff were more expensive to run and working styles were different. Overall quality scores, however, were no different in the two types of ward.

Conclusion.  Ward managers need to monitor temporary staffing and the effect they have on nursing activity and quality. Similar studies in mental health, learning disability and community nursing would generate additional insights.