The government has criticised health authorities that are spending huge sums of cash flying in foreign doctors for NHS work.
The huge cost of providing Europeans to cover off-duty GPs in the UK came to light over Christmas, when an Italian doctor was paid £3,200 plus flights and accommodation for five days’ work in Scotland.
It emerged that thousands of doctors from Germany, France, Greece and the Eastern Bloc have cashed in on a change in GP contracts.
In 2005, British GPs won the right to hand responsibility for out-of-hours patient care to NHS Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). Now PCTs are struggling to find locums to work weekends and cover holidays, and many have been forced to look abroad.
This is costing the NHS a fortune in wages and transport costs at a time when a £547m budget deficit has seen training and development slashed. Germany is said to have provided 2,500 locums to the UK, Greece 2,000 and France 600.
A spokesman for the Department of Health told Personnel Today: “There was a long lead-in time to this contract change and PCTs knew what was coming. Some PCTs have handled it better than others. Some could do better, but they are the exception rather than the rule.”
The NHS Confederation, which represents more than 90% of health service organisations, admitted it faced a “challenge” keeping costs down.
Jo Webber, deputy director of policy, said: “There may be certain points during the year when some PCTs have difficulty finding out-of-hours cover.”