Use of Locum Doctors Must Be Closely Managed

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 07 March 2012

Reference: PAC 05/11/12

Trusts spent £109 million employing locum doctors in hospitals to cover vacancies and short-term absences between March 2007 and 2011. The Public Accounts Committee Report published today recognises the valuable role of locums but urges closer management to ensure value for money and quality patient care.

Launching the Report into the Use of Locum Doctors by Northern Ireland Hospitals today, Committee Chairperson Paul Maskey MP MLA said: “We understand that it is important that Trusts are able to employ additional temporary doctors to ensure continuous, good quality patient care. But at the moment private recruitment agencies can charge inflated rates for providing staff to the health service, and this is not acceptable.

“The Department of Health has admitted that it would be better for it to establish an internal bank of locum doctors to provide cover. However, we are dismayed to learn that despite the Department’s assurances that an internal bank of locum doctors will improve the situation, the timetable for its implementation has already slipped. Implementation needs to become a priority.”

In terms of protecting both patients and doctors, the Committee was concerned too that it is left up to doctors themselves to adhere to the European Working Time Directive, which ensures that doctors take sufficient rest periods. Mr Maskey said: “Given the statutory duty of care placed on all health providers, this is not sufficient. The Committee believes that health and social care providers should have responsibility for verifying that doctors comply with the Directive”.

Recommendations made in the Report address the need for more robust pre-employment checks and the collection and sharing of information on poorly performing locums, to ensure patient safety under locum arrangements.

“The Department and Trusts must get better at collecting information to comply with best practice in employment decisions in future. The Committee believes that the way Trusts employ and manage locum doctors needs to be tightened up. We look to the Department to implement these recommendations and ensure patient safety and value for money in this area.”


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