Colchester: MPs’ concerns over hospital’s £2m locum doctors bill

Colchester General Hospital

Colchester General Hospital - Credit: Andrew Partridge

MPs have expressed concerns after it was revealed an Essex NHS Trust spent more than £2million on locum doctors in one year.

Over the last financial year Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust spent £2.2m on temporary doctors – a rise of more than £200,000 from the previous year and an increase of over £500,000 on the 2010/11 financial year when the locum bill almost reached the £1.7m mark.

Health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Dr Dan Poulter, has urged bosses to “halt the upwards trajectory” of spending, while Clacton MP Douglas Carswell has claimed the over-reliance on locums reduces patients’ confidence in the medical services they are receiving.

The trust has responded by saying the locum bill represents less than 1% of its total operating costs and that the increases are due to the need to plug staffing gaps while the trust recruits more doctors to its A&E department.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request to the trust, which manages Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital, also in Colchester, as well as running outpatient clinics at hospitals in Clacton, Harwich and Halstead.

Mr Poulter acknowledged that all hospitals need locum doctors to cover unexpected sicknesses and staff on maternity leave but said the board at Colchester needed to analyse where they could save on bills for temporary staff.

He said: “Colchester is by no means the worst offender in terms of locum bills but it’s the upwards trajectory that is concerning and it needs to be addressed.

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“A good district general hospital should certainly be able to get its locum bill down to around the £1m mark.”

He urged bosses to look at where they can reduce this bill and said filling long-standing vacant positions and using junior doctors as in-house locums rather than expensive agency locums were two standard ways of reducing locum charges.

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “We are confident that the public and patients will be reassured that we have no qualms about spending extra money to plug potential gaps in medical cover.

“This is a common trend, particularly at district general hospitals, partly because the number of doctors in training is being reduced nationally. There are other factors at this trust. For example, we used more locum doctors while we recruited to additional doctor posts in our A&E department and Emergency Assessment Unit which we created to enable us to extend consultant cover.”

But Mr Carswell claimed the increasing use of locums was eroding the confidence his constituents had in the NHS and said they face similar problems at GP level.

He added: “We had ongoing problems in my constituency with not being able to get a full-time GP at the Green Elms surgery in Jaywick and west Clacton. We will have members of my constituency who have spent 30 or 40 years paying tax, who face a locum at primary care level and then another locum when they go to hospital in Colchester.

“It doesn’t do much for a patient’s confidence if the first time a doctor looks at their notes is when they walk through the door. With the use of locum doctors you miss out on the accumulated knowledge one person has about a patient.”

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