Shortage of emergency doctors adding to waits

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HOSPITALS in Leeds are facing a critical shortage of accident and emergency doctors.

By June, departments at Leeds General Infirmary and St James’s Hospital will only employ just over a quarter of the middle-grade medics needed.

Expensive locums are being used to plug the gap – but waiting times for patients have spiralled.

Health chiefs and national experts are urgently trying to tackle the problems, which have been made worse by an influx of patients and waits for beds.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Maggie Boyle told a meeting: “We have got six doctors on a rota which should have 22 and we cannot make up that shortfall.”

Hospitals aim to treat and discharge or admit 95 per cent of patients who come into accident and emergency within four hours.

But in December, performance dropped to just 80 per cent at St James’s while LGI also missed the target.

Interim chief operating officer Clive Walsh said: “There is a 60 per cent vacancy rate in emergency medicine specialty registrar posts which is due to the inability to successfully recruit sufficient individuals into these posts.”

He said the shortage was a national issue but by June the vacancy rate would be at 72 per cent.

Work is ongoing to tackle the problem, including locums being used to fill shifts.

He added: “We are trying to do all the things we can think of and all the things that external people can think of as well to address this deficit.”

The pressure has been increased by growing patient numbers at A&E, despite work to cut numbers.

December attendances were at the highest levels for more than five years for the month and were up 3.5 per cent on the previous year. Failing to cut A&E waiting times could have a drastic effect on the hospital trust’s finances.

It is aiming to end the year with £5m in the bank, but finance director Neil Chapman said the situation was “really, really tight”.