Nationwide plans to restrict nurses on substantive NHS contracts from taking agency work were put “on pause” this month, following a backlash in the profession.

NHS Improvement’s proposals were intended to reduce the millions of pounds spent by hospitals on agency fees at a time of financial pressures; however, nurses said it would leave them struggling to make ends meet.

One nurse told this newspaper she was so “horrified” by the proposals she had considered leaving the profession. She said it was “ill thought through, punitive” and would have “potentially disastrous effects”.

The Royal College of Nursing campaigned against the rule, which it said was “damaging to high-quality patient care”.

Speaking after the pause, Ipswich Hospital said it was “waiting to see what happens”.

A spokesman said the proposals had been discussed with staff and most could understand the motivation. “As a publicly funded organisation we need to be publicly accountable and we have a responsibility to spend every NHS pound as efficiently as we can,” a spokesman added. “With agency fees, it’s difficult to see this as an efficient use of money.”

The spokesman said its nurses were “dedicated” and would be consulted on any change.

West Suffolk Hospital also said it would consult with staff. “As a trust we want to spend our money wisely and try to ensure we have permanent nursing staff to fill posts, avoiding the use of costly agency staff where possible,” said Jan Bloomfield, director of workforce. “However, patient care is our priority and if agency staff are needed to ensure a high quality service we will use them.

“It is important that all staff are consulted on plans such as those proposed by NHS Improvement and we would have had an extensive consultation process before implementing any changes to our workforce.”

NHS Improvements said: “Until further notice, we’re pausing our instruction that providers should ensure staff employed through an agency are not substantively employed elsewhere in the NHS.”

The nurse quoted said the proposals had caused “outrage and disbelief” among colleagues and while pausing was welcomed, concerns remained.