Weston General Hospital forks out £5.98million on temporary doctors
PUBLISHED: 11:54 19 April 2017 | UPDATED: 13:30 21 April 2017
Weston General Hospital has paid more than £1,000 per shift for stand-in doctors almost 700 times in the past year - resulting in its spending on temporary doctors reaching £5.98million.
The Weston-super-Mare hospital faces an ongoing staffing crisis as almost a quarter of its 92 positions for senior doctors remain vacant.
This, paired with what hospital chief executive James Rimmer describes as ‘the worst winter in NHS history’, has forced it to bring in more and more doctors to provide short-term cover, leading to what he admits is ‘a stark rise’ in spending at a time when the hospital already faces considerable financial pressures.
So far in 2016/17 hospital bosses have been forced to spend £5.98million on locum doctors across more than a dozen departments – £1.5million more than last year and close to double what was spent in 2014/15.
This spending is the equivalent of recruiting 240 junior doctors on their £25,000 starting salary for a whole year, but stems from the hospital’s struggles to make permanent appointments.
Mr Rimmer said: “It’s a stark rise, I recognise that. We had a very challenging winter and, to deal with the workload we faced, we needed to employ more doctors and nurses and had to do a lot of that on a short-term basis.”
The highest fee paid for a locum doctor saw £1,776.25 spent to cover a single 13-hour A&E shift.
Part of the recruitment problem stems from the long-term uncertainty of Weston Area Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital and is the UK’s smallest trust.
Plans to merge with another trust fell through, while it routinely struggles to meet ‘unprecedented’ demands on its services from North Somerset’s ageing and growing population.
Mr Rimmer said: “The areas we struggle in are the hard-to-recruit specialties nationally. When there are more jobs than people, then people will go where there is certainty.”
North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is now looking at four ideas which it hopes could solve some of the recruitment issues, including scaling back its A&E at night and offering fewer emergency operations. The CCG hopes the changes would mean the hospital will require fewer highly-trained, emergency staff around the clock and so will have fewer recruitment struggles.
But the hospital’s need for temporary staff cover is not limited to its A&E and surgical departments – hundreds of thousands of pounds was also spent on locum doctors who specialise in cardiology, general medicine, orthopaedics, care of the elderly and child mental health.
Mr Rimmer said: “Some of it is also just trying to tempt people into those positions.
“We work very hard to put in place permanent staff because that’s the best deal for patients, the hospital and the tax-payer.
“When we need to bring in people on those short-term contracts, we work very hard to make sure it’s an appropriate price.”
An NHS spending cap for locum doctors means any shift which sees a temporary doctor paid more than £120 an hour must be signed off by a trust’s chief executive.
But the hospital has had occasions where it has gone over this cap, including on December 27 when the trust forked out its highest amount for a locum doctor in 2016/17, with £1,776.25 paid to cover one 13-hour shift in its A&E department.
But, Mr Rimmer said there have been times he has refused to sign off shifts, and added: “I have done that.
“We have had to negotiate quite hard in some instances and I have said ‘that’s unacceptable and we can’t do it’.
“Our number one priority is always making sure the hospital is safe, but with that we need to make sure it’s affordable.”