Ipswich Hospital spends £5m in 2017/18 on agency doctors to fill rota gaps

Ipswich Hospital is having to spend millions of pounds a year on agency doctors. Picture: ARCHANT

Ipswich Hospital is having to spend millions of pounds a year on agency doctors. Picture: ARCHANT

Skilled staff shortages have left Ipswich Hospital shelling out millions of pounds a year to agencies for stand-in doctors, new figures reveal.

Crawford Jamieson, Ipswich Hospital's medical director, says locum doctors are needed to protect pat

Crawford Jamieson, Ipswich Hospital's medical director, says locum doctors are needed to protect patient safety. Picture: PAGEPIX - Credit: Archant

The trust spent £5 million on medical locums in 2017/18, which accounted for more than half of its overall agency bill of £9.9m, in a bid to fill gaps in the rotas.

Ipswich Hospital’s internal agency spend target for that financial year was £9.5m.

Dr Andrew Goddard, registrar with the Royal College of Physicians, a British independent body that represents doctors, said: “It comes as no surprise to us the level of expenditure when it comes to locums in our NHS.

“We know that currently 45% of consultant posts are not appointed to - and our members have told us that 93% of them experienced staff shortages across the team this winter.

“Often locums are the only choice. As the NHS reaches 70, our patients deserve better – somehow, we need to move faster towards a better resourced, adequately staffed NHS.”

Crawford Jamieson, Ipswich Hospital’s medical director, said the trust used locum doctors to cover rota gaps arising from vacancy and other absences, such as sickness and maternity leave.

Most Read

“The primary principle is to maintain safe medical staffing to serve our patients at all times,” he added. “We make every effort to use our own doctors working in an internal bank to cover these gaps when possible and only use locum doctors when we cannot cover internally.”

Dr Jamieson said the trust faced an “ongoing challenge” staffing its A&E department last year.

He added: “There is a national shortfall of emergency department specialists and we did have a significant requirement for locum staffing especially over the winter months.”

The NHS sets a cap on how much trusts pay out for agency staff, but Dr Jamieson said there were occasions in 2016/17 when the hospital had to exceed this.

Ipswich Hospital will merge with Colchester Hospital this summer, and Dr Jamieson said this move should help to minimise the use of external locum doctors.

He added: “The merger with Colchester offers the ability to consider best utilisation of the medical workforce and while we do not expect staff to be travelling between sites as part of their daily work nor working cross site frequently, there are opportunities to maintain safe staffing more effectively across the new trust and minimise the use of external locum doctors.”

Dr Jamieson said the trust had a workforce strategy in place which included a range of actions to address skills shortages and vacancies.

This strategy features the development of new roles such as advanced care practitioners and physicians’ associates.