'Surprise' as Betsi Cadwaladr health board spends £50m on locums

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Media captionAntoinette Sandbach fears for staff confidence at the health board

A north Wales AM has expressed her "surprise" and concern that a health board spent £50m on locum doctors and temporary medics from agencies.

Antoinette Sandbach said the "massive" figures were released by the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board after a Freedom of Information request.

She said the 2,571 locums hired between March 2010 and April 2013 raised concerns over patient care.

The health board has said it tries to minimise unnecessary expenditure.

Ms Sandbach, Conservative assembly member for North Wales, has previously raised the issue of the number of vacancies at the health board - but now has the figures for what it is costing to cover posts.

The figures show the health board spent £50,504,000 in roughly three years on 2,571 locum doctors and medics recruited from agencies.

That does not include the cost of locums directly employed by the health board during that period.

The health board currently has 112 locums on its books, one of which has been working part-time since October 2010 on a salary of £17,620.

Locums are recruited for a variety of reasons, including the creation of new posts, when a post cannot be filled, and to cover sickness and maternity leave.

Ms Sandbach said: "I am surprised by these figures - £50,504,000 is a massive amount of money on a large number of workers.

"Any similar-sized large company would be asking itself why it is paying more than £1m a month for temporary senior staff, plus, why it can't fill jobs quickly and permanently.

"How can there be continuity of care for patients, when the doctor or specialist they are seeing is likely to be gone in a few weeks, or even days?

"Last month we heard that the health board is expected to be £29m in the red by the end of this financial year and last December needed a £15m assembly bail-out."

Referring to an inquiry into NHS trusts in England by Sir Bruce Keogh, she added: "The time has come for an independent, Keogh-style inquiry into our NHS.

"Confidence in our health service is at an all-time low and there are very real and very serious concerns about performance and quality of care."

Management at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has faced severe criticism in recent months.

Earlier this month, officials apologised for their failure to control an outbreak of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) at Glan Clwyd hospital in Bodelwyddan, Denbighshire.

It was one of a series of problems which resulted in the resignation of three senior health board figures after health and audit watchdogs found "significant management failings" .

It has also been told to improve its patient record keeping and hospital discharges by a watchdog, after the Public Services Ombudsman found a series of failings in patient care.

The health board said that locum and agency staff played an important role in helping it run safe clinical services and making sure that the care of patients was not disrupted.

"Most appointments are to cover unexpected absences of regular staff due to sickness or other unforeseen events, for maternity cover or while the health board goes through the recruitment process to fill a new post or one that has become vacant," it said.

Responding to the issue of vacancies earlier this summer, a health board spokesperson said there were a number of posts which were hard to fill, particularly in some specialties.

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