Medical agencies trying to poach doctors to do NHS locum work are offering £5,000 Rolex watches and luxury holidays for referrals, it emerged last night.
The tactics have sparked outrage because the health service is struggling to fill 93,000 vacancies while also trying to clear a backlog of nearly six million patients awaiting treatment.
The NHS is already spending £6billion a year on locum doctors and nurses – some of whom are paid a staggering £4,000 a shift.
The huge payments – and incentives – are being used to encourage full-time staff to switch to locum shifts.
In return for referring a colleague, Pertemps Medical is entering doctors into a draw, with the first prize a Rolex watch or luxury holiday worth £5,000.
Tim Watts, 62, chairman of Pertemps recuitment agency, next to a luxury vintage car
Runners-up receive the latest iPad from Apple. Rivals of the recruitment firm are offering £250 Amazon vouchers for referrals or as much £1,300 in cash. The rewards were condemned last night by a Conservative MP who is also an NHS hospital doctor.
‘The NHS needlessly pays out over £6billion a year in agency and locum doctor costs,’ said Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.
‘Unfortunately this is another example of the parasitic behaviour of locum agencies who charge the NHS eye-watering commissions for supplying doctors who may only work a shift of a few hours.
‘It is important that hospitals do more to incentivise their own, existing staff, to cover any vacant shifts that may occur – for example by paying a little more, which would still be much less than the cost of using a locum agency.
‘In the longer term the Government must fund the necessary increase in the number of doctors in training.’
Some NHS trusts have clubbed together to set up online staff banks through which they can cover gaps in shifts without resorting to agencies.
Locum agencies insist they save the health service money by sparing it having to cover national insurance contributions, pensions or sick pay.
Even before the pandemic, the NHS was heavily reliant on locums, with almost one in five doctors holding temporary posts in 2018, according to the General Medical Council.
‘The NHS needlessly pays out over £6billion a year in agency and locum doctor costs,’ said Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich and doctor at Guys Hospital, London
It found in 2017 that 52 per cent of locum doctors do locum work only and are effectively freelancers. Another 40 per cent have one locum contract on top of an NHS contract, meaning they are likely to fulfil locum shifts out of hours or at weekends.
Last week Pertemps was advertising ‘nationwide opportunities’ for locum gastroenterologists in the NHS or private sector offering more than £110 an hour – £1,320 for a 12-hour on-call shift.
The advert makes it clear that high rates of pay are a key incentive. It says locum work may interest doctors who want ‘to work closer to home, broaden your horizons at a new hospital or simply feel you can achieve a higher pay rate’.
Another agency, Triple West Medical, was offering £105 an hour for a locum histopathology consultant in Lancashire and £95 an hour for a locum oral and maxillofacial surgery consultant in Greater Manchester.
It offers a £250 reward for referrals. Under the Pertemps ‘refer and earn’ scheme, a doctor who refers a colleague is entered into a prize draw once the individual has worked 40 hours.
Promoted with a picture of an idyllic tropical beach, the offer’s first prize is ‘a luxury holiday or watch of your choice worth up to £5,000’
Promoted with a picture of an idyllic tropical beach, the offer’s first prize is ‘a luxury holiday or watch of your choice worth up to £5,000’. Job adverts state: ‘An extra bonus for our doctors – don’t forget to check out our brand new referral scheme where you could win a £5,000 holiday, Rolex or an iPad!!’
Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: ‘These are desperate measures in desperate times. The Government needs to get a grip.’
Adam Parrish, managing director of Pertemps Medical, stressed its commissions were regulated and approved.
‘With the pressure on the NHS and the waiting lists, agencies are providing an essential service in supplying doctors to the NHS to assist in their Covid response and to tackle increasing patient backlogs,’ he said. ‘Our referral schemes are provided at our own expense.’
He said locums increased the number of doctors ‘available to the NHS at a hugely critical time’ and the eventual cost was ‘often’ lower for the health service.
Pertemps, which started operations in the Midlands in 1961, is chaired by Tim Watts, son of founder Constance.