A DOCTOR was flown in from Jamaica to provide temporary cover for a hospital battling a major recruitment crisis, it emerged on Monday.
The locum consultant was hired for just over five weeks because Aberdeen Royal Infirmary was left without a top anaesthetist.
NHS Grampian paid £1,535 for the doctor’s return flight from Kingston to Aberdeen in June.
Pay rates for the period from June 23 to August 1 started at £46 an hour and rose to £68 for the last two weeks.
The crisis-hit health board then paid more than £2,175 to fly in a consultant in from India to cover a weekend shift in the casualty department a few weeks after the anaesthetist returned home.
NHS Grampian said on Monday the consultant from Jamaica had worked at the hospital before but could not confirm if he was a retired specialist who had relocated to the Caribbean.
A health board spokeswoman said: “He was known to the department and his economy flight ticket was paid as part of the agreement for securing his services. No accommodation costs were involved.
“Locum doctors are a necessary expense for any NHS board. They provide vital support to our full time staff complement and when vacancies arise in the medical staff group locum or agency doctors are used to ensure continuity of service while we recruit.
“Some areas of care are extremely specialised and recruitment to these posts can take time. Using locum doctors ensures that we can continue to provide a service to our patients while filling essential medical vacancies.
“Approximately 500 consultants are employed in Grampian and at any one time some vacancies are to be expected.”
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NHS Grampian was unable to confirm whether the staff vacancy had since been filled.
Scottish health minister Alex Neil was due to meet with staff at the hospital yesterday ahead of a Healthcare Improvement Scotland review being published next month.
His visit follows the recent resignations of key figures on the board in recent weeks. Board chairman Bill Howatson announced that he was leaving last month and chief executive Richard Carey will also leave his post soon.
Their resignations came after senior clinicians lost confidence in management at the hospital because of the ongoing staffing crisis. Hospital consultants fear the recruitment problem could put the lives of patients in danger.
North East Labour MSP said it was time for the health secretary to clarify what support the Scottish Government would provide NHS Grampian to deal with the problem.
Mr Baker said he would be asking Mr Neil why the situation has been allowed to develop as a result of the underfunding of 70 million pounds over the past two years.
He will also ask why the Cabinet Secretary has postponed a vital annual review into NHS Grampian until next year as the crisis at the health board continues.
Mr Baker said: “Both the Chairman and Chief Executive have announced they are standing down but it is Alex Neil who must be accountable for the situation at NHS Grampian.
“Our hard working local NHS staff need more and better support from the Scottish Government. It is the underfunding of NHS Grampian which has resulted in a recruitment crisis and waiting times targets being missed.
“Rather than pass the buck the Cabinet Secretary must tell us what extra support NHS Grampian will receive to address these challenges and how he will keep his promise that waiting times targets will in future be met.
“It’s time for him to do his job properly for the sake of patients in Grampian.”
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