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The rising cost of temporary staff to the NHS in Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:44 06 July 2010

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn paid £375 an hour for an agency doctor in August this year because it was short of staff.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn paid £375 an hour for an agency doctor in August this year because it was short of staff.

Dan Grimmer

A Norfolk hospital has been highlighted for paying the highest wage in the country to agency staff to cover shift work.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn paid £375 an hour for an agency doctor in August this year because it was short of staff.

Dan Grimmer

A Norfolk hospital has been highlighted for paying the highest wage in the country to agency staff to cover shift work.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in Kings Lynn paid £375 an hour for an agency doctor in August this year because it was short of staff.

The Kings Lynn hospital topped a list compiled by the Conservatives from a Freedom of Information request over expenditure on staff.

However, hospital bosses said the payment was made in August and they are trying to recruit more permanent staff.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “Whatever the reason it is very hard to justify such high expenditure on agency staff. The fact that the QEH is the highest in the country is a cause for real concern.

“As we face a period of very tough public spending decisions it is vital that every penny is spent wisely.”

The figures are particularly concerning because the NHS is expected to face a financial crisis next year with no extra government spending on health.

All trusts are trying to make savings, including NHS Norfolk which faces a £6m deficit by the end of the financial year if it continues with the same spending pattern.

Other trusts featuring in the research included West Suffolk Hospital which paid £111.98 an hour, the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston which paid £108 an hour.

A spokesman for the QEH said: “We have been actively recruiting to fill the vacancy for a consultant dermatologist but without success so far.

“The care of our patients remains our priority and we have been obliged to arrange temporary cover for this service.

“As an alternative we are currently exploring the possibility of linking-in with the service provided by a neighbouring hospital.

“Over the past two months we have halved our spending on agency staff and we are continuing to reduce our overheads.”

NHS Suffolk and NHS Norfolk scored relatively low on the table - paying out £104.91 an hour and £55 respectively.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney did not feature in the research but the N&N said it paid £365,000 to agency doctors last year in total.

Jonathan Cook, director of corporate services at NHS Norfolk, said: "NHS Norfolk's priority at all times is to commission the best care and value for its patients and to ensure that the Trust runs as efficiently as possible.

"It is important to point out that agency staff - both clinical and non-clinical - are employed on a temporary basis, and often at short notice to cover periods of leave etc. Their work complements that of our permanent teams."

A spokesman for the James Paget University Hospital said: “Agency staff have, and continue to play, a key role in helping the trust to respond to fluctuations in demand for services and staff availability.

“Agency staff are available at short notice and have usually been employed in NHS environments before, so are familiar with working practices and can hit the ground running.

“All agency staff are checked to ensure that they are suitably qualified and security cleared to undertake the role before joining the trust.

“We use agency staff when all other options have been exhausted and have reduced agency nursing staff costs by about 75pc in the last five years to 2008/09.”

Barbara Wilson, Norfolk Community Health and Care's (NCH&C) director of human resources, said: "The trust regards its responsibility to deliver consistent and excellent health services to patients as a top priority.

"As is commonplace with large employers within the NHS, at times NCH&C needs to use flexible labour, in the form of agency staff, to ensure these requirements are met, particularly in peak times of demand on health services."

Nationally £1.3bn a year is spent on agency staff which is up 60pc in two years.

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