Cash-strapped health service pay £2,500 a day for locum doctors

Cash-strapped health chiefs paid £18,000 for a cancer specialist to work as a locum for one week.

A nurse tends to a patient at the Unfallkrankenhaus Berlin (UKB) hospital in Marzahn district. Picture: Theo Heimann/Getty Images

The payment by NHS Dumfries and Galloway is one of the highest single payments made as Scotland tackles a dire shortage of consultants.

Locum doctors, rather than consultants, are costing the NHS up to £2,500 a day to cover shortfalls and hit treatment targets in Scotland’s hospitals.

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Former SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil said the situation was “out of control” – and called for the NHS to take on the profit-making locum firms by setting up its own rival short-term cover business.

Former SNP Cabinet Secretary Mr Neil said: “This is not good for patient safety. Nor is it a wise use of scarce resources.”

Figures show the increasing reliance of health boards on expensive agency medical staff. The data shows the biggest bills came in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, where one unnamed locum agency was paid £497,000 to provide a consultant for nine months.

The health board also paid £449,000 for another consultant to work eight months.

The spend was revealed in an Audit Scotland report – prepared for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and released under freedom of information laws – which stated that although the majority of this cover was to fill long-term vacancies, “a proportion of shifts worked were for waiting list initiatives”.

This is the treatment targets set by SNP ministers which health boards have to meet.

The data also shows that in 2015, NHS Dumfries and Galloway paid £18,368 to locum agency Interact Medical for a radiology consultant to provide seven days’ worth of cover, including on-call.

The NHS Highland board spent £34,902 with ASH Locums Ltd to provide a month’s worth of out-of-hours medical cover in Caithness, Sutherland.

And NHS Lothian last year paid £2244 per eight-hour shift for a gastroenterology consultant.

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Donald Cameron said: “This is a terrible use of taxpayers’ money, and is starving an already hard-pressed NHS of precious resources.

“There will always be a place for locums. But due to the SNP’s chaotic workforce planning, health boards have become utterly dependent on them.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “NHS staff numbers are at a record high – and compared with 2011, there are now 1,628 more doctors, an increase of 15 per cent to 12,325.

“We’ve increased the number of funded medical school places this year by 50.”