One doctor working at Blackpool’s main hospital earned overtime payments equivalent to the value of two family homes.
The consultant, working at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, was paid £183,204 on top of their normal salary as part of a system branded ‘unsustainable’ by one Lancashire hospital chief.
With the average price of a terraced property in the resort currently at £86,479 the overtime cash would have paid for two houses, with thousands to spare.
The overtime cash – the third highest payment in the UK – is equal to the salary of seven staff nurses or nearly 10 healthcare assistants, based on national averages.
NHS bosses blamed the payments, revealed following a freedom of information request, on a national shortage of specialised staff and the need to run additional clinical sessions.
But they today vowed to reduce reliance on additional payments, having cleared a backlog of patients.
It is vital we do all we can to ensure patients see the best available staff
A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “In line with most NHS Trusts, Blackpool Teaching Hospitals is seeing increased patient demand resulting in the treatment of more patients year-on-year, but in certain specialities there is a shortage of highly-skilled consultants.
“In the past we have met the extra demand by referring some patients to independent hospitals under NHS care. At the start of April 2015, following a review, we decided it would be better for the continuity of care of our patients for as much of this extra work to be done in-house as possible.
“However, in common with many trusts, the national shortage of highly-specialised expert staff means we have had to look to our existing staff to meet the shortfall by putting on additional clinical sessions to meet the demand.
“This involves extra operating theatre sessions, more outpatient clinics and additional diagnostic tests and there is a cost in doing this. We had to spend more money putting on these extra clinical sessions to ensure patients received timely and safe care while we as a Trust focused on plans to recruit more substantive staff to address the shortfall.
“In one of the areas where we incurred extra costs we have made significant reductions in waiting times.
“Having now reduced this backlog the Trust has developed plans which we expect will reduce our reliance on additional payments.
“It is vital we do all we can to ensure patients see the best available staff to get the best treatment.”
Blackpool Victoria Hospital was unable to say how many overtime hours the consultant had worked or how much they had been paid for each shift.
Lancashire topped the league of overtime payments to hospital consultants – with one doctor working for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust (LTHTR) earning £375,999 on top of their annual salary.
The trust which runs Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals, and provides care for patients from the Fylde coast, admitted overtime was not a long term solution.
Professor Mark Pugh, medical director of LTHTR, said: “There is an acute shortage of consultants for some of these specialities. Clearly this is not sustainable, as both demand for many services, and costs, are continuing to increase.”
Campaigners and unions today insisted the high levels of overtime payments should not be blamed on individual medics or hospital bosses, but on cost pressures imposed from Whitehall.
Coun David Owen, part of Fylde coast pressure group 38Degrees – fighting privatisation in the NHS – said: “The individuals shouldn’t be in the spotlight here.
“It’s about the Government’s attitude to the NHS.
“Their answer to hospitals paying more to meet targets has been to relax the targets.Then it’s patients that suffer.
“The answer is sorting the funding in the first place.
“It’s the poor doctors and local NHS bosses who are caught up in all this, when they are just trying to make the best of a bad lot.”
Dr David Wrigley, Lancashire’s British Medical Association (BMA) representative, said: “These payments show a severe shortage of doctors. The Government has known about this for years, but has refused to do anything about it.
“The UK has one of the lowest numbers of doctors per head of population in the western world, and so our doctors are having to work extra hours.”