Hospitals across the North East spent more than £56m hiring temporary doctors while at the same time forking out millions of pounds on redundancy and severance payments to staff.
Figures obtained by The Journal through the Freedom of Information Act show a staggering £56,035,345 was used by the region’s health trusts to fund locum doctors, while £11,413,258 was used to lay off employees.
Unions have criticised the enormous sums handed to temporary medics over three years at a time when the NHS is being asked to make significant efficiency savings.
Glenn Turp, Royal College of Nursing Northern regional director said: “The complete reorganisation of the NHS, combined with unrealistic, short-term cost-cutting demands imposed on trusts by central Government, ironically appears to be leading to more waste and inappropriate use of resources.
“Almost £12m has been spent on redundancy payments in the region, and yet at the same time, staff shortages mean that trusts are spending huge sums on temporary staff to cover for vacancies elsewhere in the system. In these financially-challenged times, this cannot be right.
“To employ large numbers of front-line temporary staff to cover for vacancies in the system is not cost effective or conducive to delivering a high quality service.”
The cost of funding temporary doctors has risen by 46% over the last four years as payments in 2009/10 stood at £15,455,457, while in 2011/12 they jumped to £22,610,893. Hospitals say they have had to increase their use of locum medics due to compliance with the European Working Time Directive for junior doctors limiting their hours from 56 per week to 48.
Health chiefs say they’ve had to fill gaps in the rota with temporary doctors to ensure the needs of patients are met to a high standard, and often recruitment is taken from expensive agencies.
County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust spent the most on temporary medics over the period, and the amount has almost doubled in that time.
In 2009/10, the largest acute trust in the North East with a population of more than 650,000 spent £5,448,873 and in 2011/12 the amount was £9,971,055.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “We have a number of locum doctors on permanent contract at junior and consultant grades.
“We have recently expanded our services and recruited additional clinical staff, recruiting temporary locum doctors only where necessary to support increasing requirements and service demands.”
Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent a total of £14,556,764 and said it had introduced an internal database so junior doctors already working in the trust can be offered additional shifts before they go to ask for help from an external agency.
A spokesman said temporary medical staffing cover was needed predominantly to cover for absence or vacant posts “where there are supply and demand issues”.
“There is also an ongoing requirement to ensure compliance with strict European Working Time Directives for junior doctors,” he said.
“In addition, the strengthening of the Government rules on immigration has led to the trust finding it increasingly difficult to cover gaps in junior doctors rotas, on a timely basis, by directly employing overseas (outside EU) medical staff.
“However, over the past three years the trust has steadily reduced its spend on locum doctors with increased emphasis on improving its recruitment processes thereby ensuring high fill rates and quality of staff.”
Dr George Rae, chairman of the North East British Medical Association, said it was “very disconcerting” to hear of the spend on locums when funding for patient services “is struggling to stand still”.
Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust was the only trust in the region to spend almost equal amounts of money on temporary medics and on redundancy and severance payments in the same period. However, it insisted there was no correlation between the two issues.
A trust spokesman said it had cut spending on locum support which was “essential for the smooth and safe running of the health service, by over 30% since 2009”.
“Over the past two years, we have offered a voluntary severance scheme to achieve further efficiencies in back office areas such as admin, clerical and management roles so that, ultimately, more resources can be reinvested into frontline care in the long term.”