New main entrance at Leighton Hospital

The need for agency staff has contributed to Leighton Hospital bosses forking out almost £2 million more on pay than they expected so far this year, writes Stephen Topping.

Directors at Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which also runs Victoria Infirmary in Northwich and Elmhurst in Winsford, were given the trust’s latest financial figures 2018-19 at a meeting this week.

Between April and November, the trust spent £115.8 million on pay – £1.8 million more than it had planned to do so.

A report issued to the board said agency spend was a major contributor to the cost – and that there is a “high risk” that the trust could breach a £5.7 million cap on agency spend in 2018-19.

Dr Paul Dodds, medical director and deputy chief executive, told the board the trust often faces difficulty in filling staff vacancies – but that it is working hard to cut agency spend.

He said: “Sometimes we get no applications, sometimes we will get one application and then they withdraw.

“I just want to assure the board that it is not for the want of trying. We are not sat here twiddling our thumbs.”

The report said Mid Cheshire Hospitals overspent on agency staff alone by £687,000 between April and November 2018.

NHS regulators are clamping down on the use of ‘locum’ agency staff, who cost hospital trusts on average 20% more than ‘bank staff’ – doctors and nurses who work at hospitals on a flexible basis.

A report issued at Monday’s board meeting said agency nurses were needed to cover Leighton’s escalation wards in the summer, while the trust also expects to employ high-cost agency doctors in the winter months.

Heather Barnett, director of workforce and organisational development, told the board work is under way to reduce the reliance on agency nurses – including a recruitment drive, additional training opportunities, and moving existing staff to other departments.

“There are some positive things happening to try and reduce that agency spend,” she added.

Meanwhile, hospital bosses will meet to discuss the potential impact Brexit could have on the NHS workforce.

A representative from Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will attend meetings to discuss the issue throughout January.

Agency staff - Tracy Bullock - leighton hospital

Tracy Bullock

Outgoing chief executive Tracy Bullock, who will leave the trust a week before Britain leaves the European Union on March 29, told the board of directors on Monday that issues around staffing and contract procurement will need to be addressed.

“I think there is going to be a flurry of meetings over January that will be external and take a lot of time,” said Mrs Bullock, who has been named as the new chief executive at University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, in Stoke.

“From talking to other organisations, the key issues being discussed are around workforce and procurement – not issues about money or performance.

“I have been speaking to other trusts about what governance they are putting in around Brexit and I have had a variety of responses to that question.”

Dr Paul Dodds, medical director and deputy chief executive, added: “There are bound to be risks associated with Brexit.”

Last month, neighbouring East Cheshire NHS Trust – which runs hospitals in Macclesfield, Congleton and Knutsford – said that a no-deal Brexit would pose a “low risk” to its supplies.

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