I have been contacted by several constituents asking me to sign Early Day Motion 152 about the Government’s proposed sale of its shareholding in NHS Professionals. As a Government Minister I am unable to sign Early Day Motions but I have looked into the issues raised.

I believe that the NHS should maintain a flexible workforce, with adequate supplies of temporary staff which can meet the shifting needs of the health service and ensure maximum value for the taxpayer - and NHS Professionals is the largest single supplier of flexible staffing to the NHS.

I am encouraged that agency costs came down by £700 million last year, with NHS Professionals saving £70 million a year through supplying staff to hospitals at more affordable rates.

I would like to assure you that the Government's aim is always to improve patient care and its actions to reduce agency spend will be focused on that objective, ensuring that every pound of the NHS budget is spent as efficiently as possible.

Due to the commercially sensitive nature of the bid process, the Government is unable to comment further and you may find the following recent answer from the Health Minister to a Parliamentary Question helpful:

The Department announced its intention to sell a majority shareholding in NHS Professionals Ltd (NHSP) in November last year (2016). The Department received a number of expressions of interest following a successful Open Day and a number of responses to pre-qualification documents. The Department is currently in confidential commercial negotiations with interested bidders and cannot comment further on the nature or identity of bids.

The aim of this transaction is to ensure that NHSP has the technology, investment, skills and experience to grow for the benefit of both NHS patients and NHS staff. The staff ‘bank’ model works by offering NHS staff the opportunity voluntarily to undertake extra shifts. This enables staff to earn extra money, working in a familiar environment and within a predictable shift pattern. Bank staff are paid at a rate that is generally close to their permanent pay rate.

The key commercial feature of the potential transaction is that the Company must act to maintain a business model based on supplying high quality healthcare staff at low margins, to NHS clients. Breach of this principal would give the Department the right to repurchase its shares. The new majority shareholder would run and control the Company, but the minority stake retained by the Department would allow it to benefit from future increases in the value of the Company and also give the Department a seat on the board and oversight of its plans and operations.

In 2014 a stakeholder engagement process was undertaken by the Department and NHSP about the future of NHSP which involved talking to NHS trusts and various stakeholders in the Department of Health, NHS Employers and NHS Improvement.

NHS Professionals’ NHS clients, staff, representative unions, and registered NHS ‘bank workers’ have been kept advised of the potential sale process since its commencement in July 2016. Prior to the announcement in November 2016 on the intention to sell, an email was shared with all NHS Professionals staff explaining the nature of the process. This information was also shared with trades unions representing staff, with whom prior meetings had also been held.

I have sought further information from the Department of Health and will update the website in due course.