Spending on agency staff continues to climb at Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals

Spending on agency and bank staff in three Essex Hospitals hit £12.2million in July as they try to fill more than 2,000 vacancies.

Latest figures show the cost of hiring bank staff in Southend, Basildon and Broomfield hospitals rose from £7.4 million in June to £8.2million in July. The bill for agency staff rose from £3.8milion to £4million over the same period.

The hospitals, managed by the Mid and South Essex Hospital Trust, have struggled with plunging staffing levels and say increased sickness has added to the massive bill.

The trust currently has 2,269 full time vacancies – a 17.1 vacancy rate for nursing staff and 13.3 per cent for midwives.

A spokesperson for Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “In what has been an extremely challenging 12 months, the trust is pleased to have hired over 4,000 new staff, and we continue to follow a comprehensive recruitment plan to increase our workforce.”

The staff shortages have hit waiting times for treatment across the three hospitals.

The number of patients waiting more than 52 weeks at the end of July was 4,532.

A backlog of those waiting more than 62 days from referral to cancer treatment by the end of August was 380 against the national expectation of 260.

Southend had 26 patients waiting more than 104 days, Broomfield, in Chelmsford, had 34, and Basildon 15.

The trust successfully met its elective treatment goal in July, reaching 98.6 per cent of its target.

It is also hitting outpatient and day case targets.

Mortality rates for the trust have fallen below the 2.5 per cent for the fifth consecutive month. This follows an increase from December to February as a result of a second wave of COVID cases.

The trust said it is currently seeing patients with more advanced illness than usual and increased frailty.

Services in the three hospitals has been criticised by Care Quality Commission inspectors.

The health watchdog carried out visits to Basildon, Southend and Broomfield hospitals in July and August and found “significant “ staff shortages in maternity units.

They also found a catalogue of other breaches.

A full report is yet to be sent to the Mid and South Essex Hospital Trust but a summary of the CQC findings in maternity units across the trust said: “Across all clinical areas it was clear that there were significant midwifery staffing concerns which were impacting on the service and staff.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter