Top doctor warns of A&E agency staffing shortage at Leeds hospitals amid Easter pressure

Britain's most senior A&E doctor claims a shortage of temporary doctors at hospitals in Leeds is leaving half of emergency agency shifts unfilled.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 25th March 2016, 5:00 am

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) are struggling to find doctors willing to cover temporary A&E shifts following the introduction of caps on pay for ‘agency’ doctors according to Dr Cliff Mann, head of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM).

In November Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt targeted the £3.3billion annual NHS spend on agency staff, who were claiming higher rates from stretched trusts, by introducing limits on such pay.

The move was meant to reduce the national agency bill by £1bn a year after spiralling costs saw hospital trusts in Yorkshire spend £113million on agency doctors and nurses in 2014/15 – a rise of a third in a year.

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But the RCEM claims a shrinking number of doctors seem willing to accept the lowering levels of agency pay on offer, leaving many emergency departments “not very adequately staffed”.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Dr Mann said: “Since locum caps came in we are seeing data from a number of trusts – in Barnsley, Leeds, Bolton, Plymouth and London which shows 50 and 60 per cent of shifts going unfilled.”

He warned that emergency departments nationally are on the brink of collapse and said doctors should be drafted from other duties to avert an immediate crisis.

RCEM vice president Dr Chris Moulton reiterated the concerns while stating bank holiday pressures, in which access to GPs and community NHS services is limited, could prove a real test to A&E departments this weekend.

He said: “I don’t see any reason why this would be different but we have on top of this a staffing problem as well, meaning most emergency departments aren’t very adequately staffed.”

Dr Moulton added: “What we are all trying to meet is the Government’s four-hour target and this is the kind of thing that makes the four-hour target much harder to achieve.”

LTH was one of dozens of trusts nationally to fail to reach the emergency care standard of seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours of attending A&E in January. It reached 87.8 per cent within the target time.

A trust spokesman said Leeds is not affected by agency issues any more than other areas, while arguing that having half of agency A&E doctor posts unfilled is not typical of a normal shift although “figures do fluctuate”.

He said: “We can confirm that since the new agency cap rules came in we have seen more difficulty filling agency shifts in A&E. We do, however, support the principle of a cap on agency pay to protect the NHS budget.”

The trust also urged residents not to use A&E for anything other than emergency health issues, particularly during the Easter bank holiday.

People are being directed to the NHS 111 service, pharmacists, walk-in centres and minor injuries units for non-emergency issues.