An investigation by a leading newspaper has revealed that NHS trusts are paying over £1 billion a year on agency doctors to cover staff shortages caused by the European Working Time Directive.
The European Working Time Directive limits the number of hours medics can work to a maximum of 48 hours a week. Individual doctors are allowed to opt out of it, but still cannot exceed a limit of 56 hours.
Consequently, NHS Hospitals have had to take on more doctors or use staff from agencies, which recruit from elsewhere in the UK and abroad. The amounts being paid in some cases would be the equivalent of a doctor earning an annual salary of almost £1m.
In total, 83 hospital trusts out of 164 responded to Freedom of Information Requests by the Telegraph about the sum they spent on temporary doctors, nurses and other clinical staff.
The calculated NHS wide figure shows £1.03bn was spent in 2010-11 and £1.05bn the year before on recruiting temporary staff. In total, this could have paid the wages of 48,000 nurses or 33,000 junior doctors in the same time period.
80 per cent of responding hospital trusts admitted to spending more than £1,000 per shift on medical cover.
Heart of England Foundation Trust had the highest total bill for temporary staff in 2010-11, spending more than £24 million.
The investigation also revealed that North Cumbria University Trust spent £20,000 hiring a surgeon for one week, and £14,000 on a gynaecologist working for 4 days.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust paid £5,667 for a doctor to cover one 24 hour shift in Accident and Emergency. Christie Foundation Trust in Manchester spent more than £11,000 on 6 days cover for a haematology consultant.
Whilst most of the money included fees paid to agencies, some agencies which hire locum doctors have recently advertised NHS work which pays up to £100 an hour, including time on call.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said it was “outrageous” that hospitals were spending so much money on agency staff, while patients struggled to access many treatments, such as hip replacements.
She said the use of temporary staff increased risks to patients, because they were not familiar with the hospitals in which they worked.
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