A RECRUITMENT “crisis” has forced the region’s hospitals to almost double spending on temporary A&E doctors, ministers were warned yesterday (Tuesday).
Labour unveiled research showing that spending on locum doctors in the North-East and North Yorkshire soared from £1.2m to £2.3m in just three years.
Some NHS trusts shelled out huge sums on locums last year – in particular, County Durham and Darlington (£554,448) and Harrogate and District (£809,888).
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And South Tyneside trust spent £392,977 in the 2012-13 financial year, despite not turning to temporary doctors at all three years earlier.
Total spending is almost certain to be much higher, because three big trusts – in Sunderland, Newcastle and York – did not respond to freedom of information requests.
Doctors can earn almost four times as much standing in as a locum as they can working their normal shift – up to £1,500.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s heath spokesman, said ministers had ignored warnings of “recruitment crisis” from the College of Emergency Medicine, made three years ago.
And he blamed the growing problem on the “disastrous” reorganisation of the NHS, which had made people redundant and disrupted planning.
Mr Burnham said: “The NHS has been left with a dangerous shortage of A&E doctors and a bill for locums which is spiralling out of control.”
The College of Emergency Medicine agreed that hospitals were “throwing money down the drain” – and damaging the morale of regular doctors.
Dr Cliff Mann, the college’s president, said: “We've only recruited 50 per cent for each of the past three years. It's absurd - the only people who benefit from this are the locum agencies.”
Asked if it faced a “recruitment crisis”, South Tees Hospitals trust – where spending on locums has soared by 26 per cent in three years – ducked the question.
Instead, its statement said: “We do use locums in our accident and emergency departments to cover any vacancies and to ensure we have a consistent number of doctors on duty.
“These are of junior or middle grade and all our consultants are permanent staff.”
However, North Tees and Hartlepool trust bucked the trend by slashing its bill for locum A&E doctors to zero, from £127,119 in 2009-10.
In the Commons, health minister Dan Poulter blamed Labour, arguing the problem had been brewing since 2004 and that it took six years to train an A&E doctor.
He said: “The good news is there are now more permanent doctors than there were before 2010 – and there are 352 more doctors working in A&E.”
Experts warn that doctors increasingly do not want to work in A&E, because of unsociable hours and the high pressures of the job.
The department of health is considering offering inducements to junior doctors – including an extra two weeks holiday – to tempt them to work in A&E.