NHS Grampian at “the mercy” of the market as little headway made on locum spending

Locator of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary from the top of the multi-storey car park.

Picture by KENNY ELRICK     23/01/2018
Locator of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary from the top of the multi-storey car park. Picture by KENNY ELRICK 23/01/2018

A NHS Grampian director has admitted to being “at the mercy” of locum doctors naming their price as the organisation tries to cut costs while tackling waiting times.

The north-east health board paid temporary medical staff just as much last year as it did the year before – despite targets to slash spending.

In the 2018/19 financial year, the north-east health board paid out around £16 million on locum medics.

It was an integral part of a plan to savemore than £18m last year.

Speaking to members of the health board yesterday, acute medical director Paul Bachoo admitted: “It can become difficult to go up against market forces we cannot control for services we cannot turn off.

“We are at the mercy of those who set the prices.

“Until there’s a national approach to sourcing workers and their terms and conditions, we are inevitably at their mercy.

“We haven’t yet said costs are more important than services.”

A report before the board yesterday stated 2018/19 spending was similar to the £16m spent in 2017/18.

Concerns were raised over why millions were still being spent on temporary workers.

NHS Grampian’s finance director Alan Gray said:  “Some of it has been the supply challenges we are facing in some of our specialities.

“We ‘d also highlight our agency costs are significantly higher – having doubled in the last year.

“Part of that was planned investment to target waiting times, part of that was a reflection of some of the challenges we face.

“We actually hired 290 more staff this year than in 2017/18, but it has proved very difficult to get reduce locum usage and maintain services.”

North-east Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald called for further action to recruit even more staff.

He said: “The spending does illustrate the challenge of recruiting doctors in the north-east and it’s clearly something NHS Grampian will have to work hard at.

“But I am optimistic the development of the major trauma centre network is a good opportunity to attract doctors to come and work at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital – and that would clearly be a big help.

“The issue of medical recruitment extends beyond the main hospital into general practice and elsewhere – it’s an ongoing challenge.”