Doctors have called for the Government to remove its ‘short-sighted’ caps on pay for locum doctors, accusing politicians of exacerbating staffing crises and threatening livelihoods.
The caps, which were introduced last December, were branded an ‘insult’ to the profession.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt intended to use the measure as a means of cutting down on escalating agency staff spending, but doctors at the BMA annual representative meeting said the real cause of the need for agency staff in the NHS was lack of resource.
Tom Micklewright, a Chester GP trainee, said: ‘Rota gaps are endemic. There is one type of doctor who can help us here, who can fill gaps from a few hours to a few months, who can work across a hospital and across a country — or at least there was.
‘Following Monitor’s locum caps a locum senior house officer costs from just £25 an hour and a registrar from £35 an hour — a driving instructor and a fitness trainer respectively.
'This is a disgrace. Locuming is an active career choice for many including working parents and foreign doctors and pay has always been flexible to appropriately reflect need and urgency.
‘These caps are a death knell. We are seeing worsening rota gaps, stretched emergency care departments and exhausted juniors being pressurised into covering the uncoverable.
'Since being at this ARM I have received 11 desperate texts asking me to cover overwhelming gaps. Spiralling locum costs are a consequences of a struggling NHS not the cause.’
'Insult to the profession'
Dr Micklewright added: ‘These caps are short sighted, exacerbate our staffing crisis and affect the livelihoods of thousands of doctors. They are an insult to our profession.’
Retired Yorkshire GP Russell Walshaw supported Dr Micklewright’s argument.
He said: ‘There is a crisis. Without locums, hospitals and general practice would collapse. They enable health providers to iron out the creases in staffing.
'Locum supply is tight and locums are worth a premium. As self-employed doctors they are entitled to set their own fees. To cap locum fees goes against the Government’s policy of a free-market economy.’
Just last month the BMA reported that the health service bill for agency staff shot up by more than half a billion pounds last year — despite Mr Hunt claiming the expense had begun to 'level out'.
Hospitals spent an extra £545m on agency staff in 2014/15 compared with the previous financial year, according to a report released on Thursday by NHS Improvement.
The total agency bill for that year stood at £3.64bn — more than a third higher than the sum set aside for that cost by NHS finance chiefs, the report said.
Speaking at the ARM, BMA council chair Mark Porter said: ‘The Government has seen high spending on locums and assumed that a cap is the right response. What we know is the real problem is the resource. The need for locums has been created by mismanagement of the health service.’
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