7 of the biggest factors driving agency and bank nurse salaries

7 of the biggest factors driving agency and bank nurse salaries

Updated · 8 min reading
In this post, Bemlo demystifies one of the most frequently discussed topics - how do nurses increase their salary? 

Following reports of a real-terms pay cut for nurses last year, it is unsurprising that much of the workforce is looking to take home the right pay. Taking on extra shifts via agencies or staff banks has long been an option for healthcare workers. With the rising number of vacant roles available for nurses at all levels of seniority, there are even more opportunities for temporary work. 

If you have made it to this page, chances are you want to join the ranks of nurses taking up these shifts. Whether you are looking to work exclusively via temporary posts or just want to pick up a couple of extra shifts to supplement your regular salary, getting the right pay is probably at the top of your list of considerations. Unlike fixed nursing salaries, locum rates have been steadily rising over the years, and annual agency nurse earnings stand at 42% higher than that earned by permanent nursing staff. 

Read on to find out more about how you can find the best-paid shifts.

What Is The Average Agency and Bank Nurse Pay? 

The average hourly wage for nurses is £27.70, which amounts to £52,076 per annum if working a 40-hour week with 5 weeks of holiday. This rate is based on data collected from over 1,000 agency nurses via a job board. In contrast, the Royal College of Nursing puts the average salary of a full-time NHS nurse at £33,000 to £35,000. Whereas the average head nurse salary in the UK is around £60,000. Whilst this should give you an idea of what you may earn, finding accurate data on the average rates for agency and bank nurses is often difficult. 

For the best information, you will need to look at existing job advertisements in the roles you’re interested in and the areas you’re willing to work in. The amount quoted for agency nurses will vary significantly depending on location, seniority, and even season, amongst a number of other factors. In this article, we will highlight the tips and tricks you can use when trying to maximise your pay as a locum nurse. 

What Are NHS Staffing Frameworks?

Before we delve into the tips, it is important you understand the structures governing pay. If you have spent time looking into bank and agency work, you are likely to have come across the term ‘framework.’ In direct response to increasing spending on agency staff, the NHS implemented ‘agency rules’ in 2016, which introduced pay caps of 55% above the basic rate for all staff. 

Frameworks were also introduced, which, in addition to helping trusts comply with the pay caps, mandated that agencies compliant with the framework adhere to high standards of quality and thoroughly vet their staff. As most trusts are required to comply with the frameworks, the majority of agencies you come into contact with will also have to comply, meaning there is a ceiling on the standard rates of pay. As per the NHS pay bands 2019/20, the band 5 nurse with around 2 years of experience could earn around £27,000 - £29,000 annually.

This does not mean that you will not be fairly compensated for your work. Every trust's priority will always be providing safe care, and maintaining adequate staffing is critical. If there is a need, pay will be increased to ensure it is met. 

What Do Unsociable Hours In NHS Pay?

For those who wonder how much is unsocial hours pay in NHS, it's time plus an additional up to 30% for Saturdays and from 8 pm to 6 am on weekdays. In addition, the unsociable hours in NHS pay time plus up to 60% on Sundays and holidays. Keep reading to discover how to make the system work for you. It’s important to mention that these rates are for NHS night shift pay rate band 5. 

How Exactly Can You Maximise Nurse Salary in UK? 

Salaries quoted for locum and agency nurses vary significantly depending on location, seniority, and even season, amongst a number of other factors. Let’s look at the seven tips and tricks you can use when trying to maximise your pay as a locum nurse. 

1. Pay Escalation 

As mentioned, the 2015 pay rate caps were introduced in an attempt to curb the up to £2.4 billion spent yearly on filling NHS nursing vacancies. In spite of this, chronic issues with understaffing have led trusts to breach these caps when necessary to run a safe and efficient service. There is no hard and fast rule as to which trusts will ‘break glass’ and pay rates above the cap, but anything that increases demand either nationally (e.g. winter seasonal pressures or increased nurse turnover rates) or locally (e.g. remotely located trusts) is likely going to drive pay rates up. These escalated rates, however, are not standard and may require you to be available at very short notice, so they shouldn’t be relied on as a regular source of higher pay. In addition, the grade 1-6 scale figures in UK for nurses start from around £20,000 and can go up to £33,000. Whereas grade 7/8ths scale figures can go up to and above £60,000. 

2. Seniority and Banding 

The more senior you are, especially above Band 5, the higher the rates you can command. Owing to the managerial aspects of the work carried out by more senior nurses, it is relatively rare for roles above a Band 5 to be posted via agencies. If you opt for one of the few available posts, you will have to weigh the pay against the additional responsibilities, even if you are experienced. In your home trust, however, such roles may be more accessible via the staff bank, especially if they are in wards or departments you are familiar with. The NHS agenda for change is the pay and conditions structure introduced in 2004. To give you an example of what you might expect to be paid, the table below compares the framework rates for various bands of nurses in Scotland:

Shift typeNon-registered nurseRegistered nurseSpecialty nurse
Weekday day£10.60£20.24£23.77
Weekday night£13.84£26.30£30.90
Sunday night/Bank holiday£17.03£32.37£38.03

In addition, a trainee health visitor in Scotland earns around £35,000 per year. Scotland does not operate with baked-in rate uplifts for framework agencies, and all agencies comply with the same single framework so that these rates will be fairly standard across the country. In contrast, England operates under three separate frameworks, and there is far more scope for escalation beyond the pre-determined caps for various reasons. As such, any framework rates published are not applicable countrywide and will be subject to fluctuation. This aside, the above table should provide an idea of the incremental increases in pay that occur with increasing seniority. 

Outside of traditional nursing, some practitioner roles, such as Advanced Nurse Practitioners (ANP) and Emergency Nurse Practitioners (ENP), designated as Band 7, will attract enhanced rates due to their seniority and responsibilities. It’s worth mentioning that some associate practitioner jobs in London pay around £39,000 per year.

3. Specialties Pay 

Accident and Emergency and some mental health roles typically offer higher pay rates than standard clinic or general medical ward roles. Apart from your seniority, the speciality you choose to locum in will have the biggest impact on the amount of pay you can expect to earn. In addition to the above-mentioned specialities, clinical areas with more roles available for ANPs and ENPs will command a premium above and beyond the rates paid for standard nursing roles. Furthermore, nurse A&E salary in UK is around £42,000 per year, whereas chief nurse jobs can pay around £80,000 per year.

4. High-Paying Regions 

Dense urban areas like London command higher rates than those seen in surrounding areas due to the large numbers of vacancies that need to be filled. This, however, is not a blanket rule. Recent job vacancies have highlighted that the average nurse practitioner salary in London is around £37,000 per year, whereas the Sussex salary scales for nurses can go up to £41,000 At the other end of the scale, remote sites often struggle to fill posts due to low supply, which will increase pay to attract candidates from further afield. Looking beyond your immediate location will allow you to tap into locations where the imbalance between supply and demand results in higher hourly pay rates as a standard.

If a job posting is not within commutable distance from your home, reduced or even free accommodation can come as part of the offer, so it is always worth enquiring. If you have the flexibility to do so, taking on several shifts and spending short stints in the hospital accommodation may be the more economical choice, even if the cost is not covered by the trust - just be prepared to put up with a few days of semi-communal living.

5. Bank Nurse Pay vs Agency Shift 

Unsurprisingly, shifts worked during antisocial hours are always paid at a higher rate than 9-5 weekday posts. It’s worth mentioning that the average bank nurse pay in the UK for entry-level positions is around £30,000 per year. If you have the flexibility to work during nights or weekends, this can be incredibly lucrative when compared to the same number of hours worked in daytime posts. It is important to note that night shifts often require a standard 12-hour stint, so it may be best for your health and your bank balance to stick to nights for a few days at a time instead of flipping back and forth. NHS night shift pay rates vary based on timings and banding, but can go up to time plus 60%.

6. Public vs Private Sectors 

Unlike doctors, private sector organisations are relatively easy to access for nursing staff via agencies. As such, in addition to NHS trusts, nurses have their pick of GP surgeries, private hospitals, nursing homes, and prisons, just to name a few. As they are not bound by the pay frameworks set for NHS organisations, these private employers have more scope to increase the rates offered above government-mandated caps. Exactly what you might earn is difficult to discern and may vary even more than comparable NHS roles and NHS unsocial hours, but it is always an option to consider.

7. Hiring Practices 

Agencies have become a permanent fixture in healthcare hiring due to the need to quickly and safely fill healthcare posts across the country. The best agencies will have already negotiated the best rates with the facilities they staff, meaning you don’t have to. For example, depending on the job and location Next Step Nursing's pay rates can go up to around £550 per shift. Comparatively, the average Nurse Plus agency pay rates can go up to £27 per hour. They will also have access to job listings in numerous trusts, giving you the flexibility to choose exactly the job you’re looking for. As already discussed, most agencies will comply with NHS frameworks and operate with pay caps, so this is something to keep in mind. 

Staff banks are often only accessible once you have worked at the facility. Their main benefit is that you typically get the first refusal of the available shifts. If you can cultivate a good relationship with your team and the rota coordinator, you may be able to negotiate your hourly rates up. You also have the benefit of working in a facility you know, which may give you access to more senior shifts than an agency would. A key downside, however, is that you can only access shifts at the facility you are on the bank for, which may become limiting if demand changes.

Key Takeaways

So there you have it, 7 key tips and tricks to consider when looking for your perfect agency or bank shifts. The hourly rate you receive is only part of the picture when it comes to finances, so keep an eye out for more Bemlo blog posts covering pensions, taxes, and everything in between. In addition, you can use Bemlo to compare the performance of the biggest agencies using ratings provided by nurses and doctors who have personal experience with their services. 

Compare 200+ staffing companies for nurses!

See reviews from other nurses
See information about salaries and benefits
Easily send applications to companies

Leave a comment...

By submitting, you acknowledge that you accept our terms and conditions.

Agency Rankings List
Developer? Apply now.

© 2023 Bemlo