Locum doctors make up to £43,000 a month from NHS 'bidding war'

Medics reportedly exploiting staff shortages in hospitals around England to make up to £350 an hour

NHS sign outside St Thomas's hospital in London
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Locum doctors are exploiting a "bidding war" in hospitals to make as much as £43,000 a month, according to a new report.

Figures from NHS Improvement, which seeks to drive down agency staff costs, show hospitals in England reported 241,195 breaches of the £76.10 per hour pay cap between July and September last year.

A separate Freedom of Information request submitted by Sky News found 56 of 61 NHS England hospital trusts admitted breaking the pay cap for agency doctors over the same period, with the problem "most acute with locum consultants".

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It reports consultant shifts were being filled for more than £200 per hour at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, Sherwood Forest Hospitals trust in Nottingham and the Pennine Acute Hospitals trust in Greater Manchester.

The Daily Telegraph says the highest paid doctors earned more than £350 per hour and that the top 20 locum doctors alone cost the NHS £7.5m each year.

A consultant at Colchester Hospital University trust was paid £128,790 over the three-month period covered by the report, the equivalent of nearly £43,000 every month.

Hospitals are only supposed to break maximum pay rules when patient safety would otherwise be endangered, but NHS Improvement says locums are exploiting a shortage of staff in some areas in a "bidding war".

It has appealed to the doctors to respect spending limits and called on hospitals to follow the example of Watford Hospital, which has agreed maximum rates with other local hospitals to "stop locums holding out for more money", saving £7m a year.

NHS Improvement adds that if the spending cap was not breached, every hospital could afford another 30 consultant shifts each week.

However, the Locum Doctors Association said the cap is not sufficient to cover medical insurance and professional fees and that the current situation is inevitable until the rate is increased.

Chairman Shehnaz Somjee said: "[A locum] could have five to six job offers in a day and they'll choose the best. They don't have to work if they don't want to because it's a loss to work at the capped rate.

"It's not the locum's fault. If [the NHS] wants to maintain the same system then tough - patients will either suffer or they'll have to pay more."

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