NHS paying locums up to £4,000 for a day’s work
Yesterday statistics showed that more than 21,000 operations were cancelled at the last minute in the final three months of last year, up 15 per cent on 2015.
Hospitals are struggling to treat rising numbers of patients while cutting costs to claw back overspending of £2.5 billion last year.
The bill for stand-in staff, used to cover absences and vacancies, reached £3.7 billion last year. To bring it down regulators capped hourly rates at 55 per cent above permanent pay.
A stand-in consultant is now meant to be paid no more than £76 an hour in normal working hours, with higher rates acceptable only if safety is at risk.
However, at least one doctor regularly commands rates of £363 an hour, equivalent to £4,356 for a 12-hour shift. Five others are known to be charging £250 an hour, or £3,000 a day, according to figures compiled by NHS Improvement, the financial regulator.
Jim Mackey, its chief executive, said that the NHS could not afford to carry on “throwing money” at locums when it was only “just about coping”.
The analysis found 260 doctors who were charging the NHS more than £240,000 a year, 20 who were taking home about £375,000 each and five whose pay was about £400,000.
Mr Mackey said: “That money could be better spent getting many more hands on deck through NHS staff; each trust running A+E services could get six more nurse shifts a week if agency staff in A+E kept to the price cap.
“It’s not right to charge these extortionate rates for temporary workers. It’s not a good deal for patients and it’s not a good deal for the NHS.”
His analysis found that the locum bill could be cut by £300 million a year if doctors’ pay were kept within capped rates, estimating that the sum would pay for an extra 30 consultant shifts a week in every hospital.
He is urging hospital bosses to look high-paid locums in the eye to ask them whether they can justify their rates. If they cut their rates by £10 an hour, it would save £103 million, he said.
Hospitals could also be made to seek his approval for high rates or be publicly shamed for overpaying as new measures to drag down pay are considered.
Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The sky- high rates paid out to locum doctors are unsustainable and will leave taxpayers stunned . . . If the locum doctors can get away by asking for so much money, then NHS bosses need to be much smarter about forward planning.”
Mr Mackey’s comments are a sign of frustration among health leaders that while nursing rates have come down, doctors charge what the market will bear for skills that are in short supply.
The problems are most acute in A&E units and hospitals in unfashionable areas.
Chorley A+E in Lancashire shut last year with bosses saying that staff would no longer work there after pay was capped. It is now open only from 8am-8pm.
Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, has warned that units reliant on “completely unaffordable” locums might have to close.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the hospitals’ group NHS Providers, said: “Members are very concerned about some of the rates they have to pay but it is often the only way they can keep a service open and safe, especially in both specialty areas and geographic locations where there are workforce shortages.”
Mark Porter, head of the British Medical Association, said: “A greater reliance on agency staff is another sign of an overstretched NHS and the result of poor workforce planning by government . . . Caps do not address the root causes of the recruitment and retention problems in many parts of the NHS.”