NATIONAL shortages of specialist doctors and nurses are adding to the pressures on the region’s accident and emergency departments, according to a survey of how North-East casualty units are coping this winter.

Questions about vacancies in A&E departments and use of locums were put to three of the region’s main hospital trusts.

The replies suggested that some trusts are more affected by doctor and nurse shortages than others, and that some trusts keep the use of locum doctors and nurses in casualty departments to a minimum.

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Two out of three of the hospital trusts contacted by The Northern Echo cited a national shortage in specialist A&E doctors and nurses as a factor in staffing casualty units.

The survey was carried out after it emerged that locum doctors elsewhere in the country are being paid £1,000 per shift to provide cover in hard-pressed A&E departments.

Officials at the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust revealed that it currently has a 12.5 per cent vacancy rate for A&E doctors and an 18.7 per cent vacancy rate for A&E nurses.

A spokeswoman for the trust, which runs Darlington Memorial Hospital and the University Hospital of North Durham, said: “It is recognised nationally that demand is exceeding supply for medical and nursing specialisms and that there is a lack of available candidates coming through both the medical and nursing training streams.

"The trust does, therefore, use locums to form part of the workforce across different shifts.”

The national shortage of specialist casualty doctors and nurses was also cited by the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

The Middlesbrough-based trust, which runs James Cook University Hospital and the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, admitted having some unfilled middle grade medical posts in A&E at both sites but insisted that it had “no problems” recruiting doctors and nurses.

The South Tees Trust also has a full team of A&E consultants in place.

Bosses at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said they had “no particular concerns” with medical and nursing vacancies in A&E, although there is currently one consultant vacancy in the department.

“We keep the use of locum doctors to a minimum and if we do use locum medical staff we use people who are known to us,” a spokesman for the trust added.