Ipswich: Bill for medical locums at cash-strapped Ipswich Hospital’s emergency ward doubles in three years to £1.2m
Cash-strapped Ipswich Hospital, which is facing millions of pounds of debt, spent nearly £1.2m hiring temporary doctors for shifts in its emergency department last year, it has emerged.
Last night Dr Dan Poulter, junior health minister and MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, described the escalating spend on medical locums, which has nearly doubled in the last three years, as “unacceptable”.
He said the “waste of money” was a failing of the previous management which had short-changed patients and should have been spent on operations, medicines and employing full-time staff instead.
But he backed new hospital chief executive Nick Hulme to overhaul its spending and recruitment policies.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Heath Road site said they had been successful in recruiting high calibre doctors and were committed to providing the best care possible.
Figures released under Freedom of Information laws found £653,392 was spent on medical locums employed at Ipswich Hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) ward in 2009/10. It rose by 83% to £1,198,356 in 2012/13.
It comes after it surfaced last month the hospital was £5.2m in debt just six months into the financial year amid fears the deficit could reach £9m in March. A loan worth up to £3m might be needed.
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NHS hospitals under financial strain nationwide have appointed expensive locum doctors on short-term contracts, often through agencies which add on fees.
One job advert posted online for a specialist registrar in Ipswich Hospital’s A&E pays between £50 and £60 an hour. One of the four requirements stipulates the applicant must have a minimum of “one years’ NHS experience”.
Dr Poulter said: “It is clearly an unacceptable use of money which flags up the historical problems that we knew existed amongst those people previously managing the trust.
“They failed to grapple with the problem. Hiring locum staff is very expensive. You pay two or three times more than other staff.
“It is short-changing patients and a waste of money that should have been spent on operations, medicines and finding full-time staff. It is demoralising to other consultants on lower salaries.”
However Dr Poulter said he was “confident” Mr Hulme would rectify the situation.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine warned in August how many emergency departments are forced to rely on an “army of locums of variable quality” to make up for the lack of full-time specialists.
An Ipswich Hospital spokesman said: “There is a nationwide shortage of specialist emergency department doctors.
“We have been successful at recruiting high calibre doctors to work in our emergency department, including a new consultant in recent weeks.
“There are times when we need to engage locum doctors, skilled in this field, to make sure we are providing safe, high quality compassionate care for patients.”
When asked if there are plans to cut the cost of medical locums, she added: “Yes, active recruitment to fill any vacant posts is underway.
“Our first priority is to provide safe care and we will continue to use locums to provide this care if necessary.”
She said there are currently four medical locum shifts in the hospital’s emergency department.
Annie Topping, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “Ultimately the hospital must ensure best use of the money that it receives to provide a high quality of care to its patients.
“Our interest is in ensuring that the hospital is providing good quality services for patients and that the experience of patients is positive.
“There are potential issues associated with the use of locum personnel in any service position; we will be actively monitoring the situation and we would urge people to tell us if they are experiencing a problem.”