Data shows a 60% increase in NHS spending on temporary doctors to cover shortages in A&E over the past three years.
According to statistics obtained by Labour, the NHS has seen a 60% rise in the cost of paying locum doctors to cover staff shortages in A&E over the past three years, with spending hitting a high of £83.3m last year.
The findings, based on data obtained from a third of trusts operating A&E services in the country, show locum costs have risen 60% from £52m in 2009-10, with temporary staff now covering one in ten consultant shifts and up to one in six shifts for more junior roles.
Dr Clifford Mann, president of the College of Emergency Medicine, criticised the high spending as “unwise” and “not an efficient way of spending NHS money.”
“When people say there is no money, there is – we’re throwing money down the drain. It’s absurd. The only people who benefit from this are the locum agencies,” he said.
He also suggested the use of locum doctors was “damaging for morale when doctors work alongside other, sometimes less qualified doctors, who are earning much more.” A locum doctor can earn up to £1,500 a shift – four times more than it would cost to hire a permanent doctor in the role.
While shadow health secretary Andrew Burnham was quick to blame the escalating costs on “disastrous” reorganisation and “gross mismanagement” of the NHS by the current government, Dr Mann suggested the problems have “really been building for the last decade”.
“There has been a lack of job planning and it is now very hard to attract doctors to this speciality,” he explained. For the past three years, 50% of A&E roles have gone unfilled, and the College is currently struggling to attract medical students to train in Emergency Medicine due to the intensity of the role.
In a bid to make the A&E job more attractive, the College has been working with Health Education England to draw up new plans, such as flexible working hours and more training opportunities for those working in A&E.
The secretary of state for health, Dr Dan Poulter, also stressed the importance of improving the work-life balance for A&E doctors as part of the government’s approach to re-negotiating doctors’ contracts.