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Wednesday, July 29, 1998 Published at 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK


Doctors paid thousands to cut waiting lists

Doctors are working overtime to cut waiting lists

Union leaders claim doctors are being paid large amounts of money on overtime to bring down NHS waiting lists.

They say NHS trusts are being forced to offer doctors thousands of pounds in order to comply with tough government targets designed to cut the lists by 100,000 from the level inherited by the Conservative administration.

According to the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, doctors at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital have been offered £900 to work extra NHS shifts - ten times the normal rate.

Nursing unions claim that nurses at the same hospital were being offered about £70 for extra shifts.

And health union Unison has claimed a consultant surgeon at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary is to be paid nearly £24,000 in overtime to work through his two-week summer holiday.

Unison claims that Dr Paul Horgan will take a lead role in 40 operations for a fee of £600 a time.

The GRI has been given £1m to spend under the government waiting list initiative. Currently 7,539 patients are waiting for treatment at the hospital.

'Totally unacceptable'

[ image: Hospitals are offering a lot of money]
Hospitals are offering a lot of money
Jim Devine, senior regional officer for Unison in Scotland, said: "It is totally unacceptable that NHS trusts should again be stuffing consultants' mouths full of gold in order to resolve a problem which is serious throughout the whole UK."

Mr Devine said Unison had written to Scottish health minister Sam Galbraith calling for a six month moratorium on consultants working in the private sector. Instead they should be paid a full time salary to clear NHS waiting lists.

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Nursing said: "People should be paid fairly for overtime, but certain not exorbitantly.

"Overtime pay has to be fair for all, and the discrepancies we are seeing are patently not fair."

Safety concerns

[ image: Nurses get much less pay]
Nurses get much less pay
The RCN spokesperson said there was also concerns over safety with pressure being exerted on staff to work excessive hours.

She said: "The real underlying problem is a shortage of staff. There are 8,000 nursing vacancies at a time when there is so much pressure to bring waiting lists down and that means we need these almost excessive measures which are not sustainable and which raise concerns about quality of care and value for money.

"What is needed is more money for staff. The government has promised more doctors and nurses but has given no clear indication of where they are going to come from.

"If we do not tackle pay in the broadest sense, we are not going to get more people into the profession, nurses will be expected to do more overtime and they will leave."

No option

The British Medical Association said that NHS trusts had little option but to take extreme measures as they were under intense pressure from the government to cut waiting lists.

A BMA spokesperson said: "Trusts are under pressure to cut waiting lists, literally at all costs.

"The problem is that the government has an obsession with cutting waiting lists because it was an election pledge.

"But the BMA believes patients should be prioritised for treatment in different ways other than the simple length of time they have spent on a waiting list.

"The government has set an artificial target which will distort patient care."

'Good value for money'

Commenting on the situation at GRI, a Scottish Office spokesman said £20m had been made available to make swift cuts to waiting lists, and that it was for health boards and trusts to decide how to use that money.

"We asked for assurances from trusts that what they were doing was good value for money," the spokesman said.

"And having less patients waiting less time for operations is good value for money.

"If this surgeon had not given up his holidays 40 patients would still be on the waiting list."

The Scottish Office is to make a further £20m available for strategic changes to the health service, including the introduction of one-stop clinics.

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