The government is introducing measures to reduce NHS trust spending on locums and temporary staffing, particularly for nursing positions.
NHS England will set a maximum hourly rate for temps and cap the amount trusts that are struggling financially can spend in this area.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the cost of agency and contract staff across the entire NHS in England last year was £3.3bn and staff costs had spiralled out of control.
Locum agencies said they were being scapegoated for the NHS’s own mismanagement of workforce planning.
Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the NHS would be taking action against staffing agencies.
Stevens also said hospitals needed to ensure they offered “flexible employment” to nursing staff.
He said: “What we’ve got to do is convert that [agency] spending into good, paying permanent jobs.”
Health regulator Monitor reported last week that NHS foundation trusts in England spent £1.8bn in 2014 on agency and contract staff – more than twice the planned amount.
The total deficit for NHS trusts in England is £822m – this compares with £115m the previous year.
Stevens said the rise in temporary staffing was due to the requirement for more nurses to be on wards, following the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal.
Though he admitted it was “very hard” for individual hospitals to take action against agencies, he said “collectively the NHS can take action here and we will be doing that”.
The measures will be phased in over the next few months and include a cap of £50,000 applied to all management-consultancy contracts.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, commented: “We welcome this focus on the agency market. Clearly we await further detail regarding the announcements from the secretary of state and Simon Stevens.
“Patient safety is our absolute priority and it’s important to remember that agency staff are useful for ensuring continuity and quality of care. In controlled, smaller numbers agency and bank staff will have a long-term future helping the NHS respond to fluctuations in demand.
“There is potential for NHS trusts to reduce spend on agency workers through further improvements in flexible working, technology and arrangements with local agencies.
“In the short-term NHS trusts will sometimes need to recruit permanent staff from other countries. This is a responsible approach to recruitment and will need continued support from the Government and other bodies.”