NHS spending on temporary A&E staff in Swindon and Wiltshire has risen by more than 800 per cent in three years as medical professionals continue to avoid permanent positions in the department.
Figures obtained by the Labour Party show the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust spent £325,858 on locum doctors, who plug gaps where services are short-staffed, in 2012/13.
The trust spent £35,880 in 2009/10, £84,632 in 2010/11 and £184,188 in 2011/12.
Year-on-year rises of 135 per cent, 117 per cent and 76 per cent have come under pressure from the party, which said a crisis in A&E departments was putting off full-time applicants.
Employing locum doctors can cost £1,500 a shift, four times as much as filling a shift with permanent staff.
A spokesperson for the GWH said: “Demand for our services is extremely high all year round and we must ensure we have enough staff, with the right skills, in the right places to provide safe and high quality care.
“We began a large scale recruitment drive last April to recruit more doctors and nurses, however recruitment is not an easy or quick task, as there is a national shortage of qualified and experienced nurses and specialist doctors for example.
“However we are making progress and we have successfully recruited 267 nursing and midwifery staff in the last nine months, including an extra two consultants and 20 nurses to the emergency department. This means we have 82 more staff caring for patients than we did this time last year.
“We are doing all we can to recruit, even going as far afield as Spain, Portugal and Ireland, and this effort will continue until we have all the staff we need, in the places we need them. Until we have recruited more permanent staff, on occasions we use qualified and experienced locum or temporary staff, so that we can maintain services and continue to provide safe and high quality care.
“We are currently offering our own nursing staff, midwives and allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, the opportunity to work extra shifts which means patients are being cared for by staff who are familiar with our wards, which reduces our spend on agency staff. Our staff work incredibly hard 24/7, 365 days a year, often in challenging circumstances and this is an extra thank you to those who are willing to help out at our busiest times.”
Anne Snelgrove, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Swindon, said she was shocked at the figures.
“I’m very shocked that spending on agency A&E doctors at the Great Western Hospital has increased nearly ten times since the Conservatives came to power in 2010,” she said.
“This takes away much-needed funding from other parts of the hospital and it’s time Swindon’s MPs got a grip on the situation.”
Justin Tomlinson, MP for North Swindon, said: “There was a chronic lack of training of the next generation of doctors and nurses under the last Government, of which Anne was a proud member.
“We are the only party to increase funding in the NHS. The Welsh, Labour-controlled, NHS budgets have decreased.
“The long-term solution that we will continue with is to train those next generation of permanent GPs.
“Until that next generation are trained we will meet the needs of those requiring attention. We are not going to tell people they cannot be operated on.”
By comparison, Trusts in Dorset, North Bristol and Salisbury have all reduced the money they spend on locum doctors in A&E departments between 2009/10 and 2012/13.