SOUTHEND Hospital spent £1.2million on agency staff in February this year.

The hospital has revealed it has 289 full time vacancies, even though between January and March, the hospital recruited 129 new members of staff.

The vacancies include administrative and technical staff along with 55 medical and dental posts and 140 nursing and midwifery jobs.

Cathy O’Driscoll, director of human resources and organisational development at Southend Hospital, said: “Agency spend at Southend Hospital in October 2016 was £1.5 million and by February this year it has steadily decreased month on month to a £1.2 million spend.

“As of the end of March there are 289 full time equivalent vacancies across all areas of the hospital and from January to March this year Southend have recruited 129 new members of staff.”

While the vacancy rate seems high, the hospital is constantly trying to recruit, including from overseas.

Ms O’Driscoll added: “Staff recruitment continues with posts advertised on NHS jobs and regular recruitment days held at the Trust.

“Southend continues to attract staff in other ways, to date we have offered 36 newly qualified nurses from local universities start dates in Autumn 2017 and we launch our Nurse Apprenticeships Programme this summer.”

Hospitals use agency staff to maintain safe levels of staffing within clinical areas. If there aren’t enough staff to cover shift gaps agency staff are brought in.

This is authorised by senior members of the hospital’s management team including medical and nursing staff but they are often more costly than permanent contracted staff, due to the fees charged by the agencies.

Health care overhaul to streamline care and stem deficit

THREE hospitals in mid and south Essex are collaborating to find ways of cutting costs The Mid and South Essex Success Regime is driving forward change for more than one million patients in the region. It wants better collaboration between hospitals, GPs, and community and social care providers.

The plans including downgrading two of the region’s A&E departments. Under plans, which will soon go out to public consultation, it is proposed Basildon Hospital becomes and specialist emergency centre, with Southend Hospital set to provide cover for less serious emergency patients but more capacity for elective surgery.

Those sites without the specialist emergency centre would develop as centres of excellence for planned operations, tests, procedures and outpatient clinics.

They would still have 24-hour services to treat people with less serious illnesses but these patients would be seen more quickly.

Southend Hospital has battled a funding deficit in recent years.

A £9.8m deficit was recorded for 2014/15, prompting an investigation by a health service watchdog Monitor. but the shortfall has grown to £15.8 million.

In 2015-16 operating expenses for all three hospitals totalled more than £936m.