Colchester: Locum spending doubles at hospital in three years
11:21 15 January 2014
Spending on temporary emergency doctors at Colchester Hospital has more than doubled since 2010 as hospitals struggle to find permanent staff, new figures reveal.
In figures obtained by the Labour Party, spending in Colchester increased by 109% – from £1,030,786 in 2009/10 to £2,158,839 in 2012/13.
It also emerged the West Suffolk Hospital Trust spending fell 1% compared to 2009/10 to £627,571 and Mid-Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust spent 3% more on locums compared to 2009/10 at £291,409.
The figures come after it has already been reported that Ipswich Hospital, which is facing millions of pounds of debt, spent nearly £1.2million hiring temporary doctors for shifts in its emergency department last year.
The regional picture emerged as data nationally revealed the cost of paying temporary doctors to work at accident and emergency units in England increased by 60% in three years. Spending on locums was £83.3m last year, a rise from £52m in 2009/10.
A locum can earn £1,500 a shift, more than four times what it would cost to employ a permanent doctor in the same role. Doctors groups said the situation was “absurd” and damaged morale.
Dr Cliff Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, said such spending was “unwise”.
“It is not an efficient way of spending NHS money and can be damaging for morale when doctors work alongside other, sometimes less qualified doctors, who are earning much more,” he told the BBC.
“But this has really been building for the past decade. There has been a lack of job planning and it is now very hard to attract doctors to this speciality.”
The figures were uncovered after Labour received data from 108 of the 145 hospital trusts it questioned under the Freedom of Information Act.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the increasing costs were linked to the Coalition’s “disastrous” reorganisation of the NHS.
A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “In common with all acute hospital trusts, we sometimes use agency and locum doctors of all grades – not just consultants – to cover unplanned absences, such as long-term sickness, and vacancies.
“Nationally, the areas where hospitals find it most difficult to recruit doctors are accident and emergency departments and emergency assessment units, and we are no exception.
“We always try to employ our own staff but this is simply not possible in all specialities, particularly emergency medicine.
“Therefore, in order to maintain services and to ensure patient safety, we have no choice but to go down the locum and agency route.
“In addition, Colchester is one of the fastest-growing towns in England and the accident and emergency department at Colchester General Hospital also serves the district of Tendring which has the highest proportion of pensioners in the East of England.
“It is also common when other A&E departments are experiencing exceptionally high demand for ambulances to divert here, so we have to bring in extra staff at short notice to meet these spikes in demand.”