Bosses at Blackpool Victoria Hospital are being held to ransom by agency doctors demanding as much as £140 an HOUR.
A gang of up to 14 medics are refusing to work amid a row over pay caused when a tax loophole, allowing them to pay less than their salaried counterparts, was closed.
NHS chiefs have publicly backed bosses at the Vic, who are standing firm in the face of the demands, and said the taxpayer should not be picking up the doctor’s tax bill.
A spokesman for NHS Improvement said: “That’s not fair or right for patients and goes against the grain of what we know many nurses and doctors believe in.”
Hospital chiefs are said to be furious at the situation, which was described by one consultant as a ‘disaster’ and has led to a number of appointments being cancelled and rearranged.
Supported by the NHS nationally, they have so far refused to give in to the doctors’ demands, leaving both sides locked in a stand-off hoping the other gives in first.
Staff doctors have been asked to cover their absent colleagues’ shifts, and daily meetings are being held in a bid to minimise any disruption to patients. No operations have been affected so far.
Deputy chief executive and finance boss Tim Bennett said: “This is a continuing issue however, and we are managing it on a day-to-day basis to make sure our patients get the best care possible.
“We have stood firm in not agreeing to any extra payments, and followed the national guidelines set by NHS Improvement.”
Until this week, agency doctors have been able to work for the NHS using their own limited companies – otherwise known as ‘personal service companies’. The companies are set up for several reasons, but benefits include tax deductions for expenses such as travel, and being able to claim a tax-free dividend of the company’s ‘profits’.
The new regulations, which mean temporary staff working for a public service will now have their tax and National Insurance deducted straight from their pay, could see agency doctors’ wages fall by 20 per cent, the Health Service Journal reported.
One South West trust was being pressured to increase pay for three agency doctors by more than 50 per cent, it added, though NHS Improvement said it would support efforts to ‘resist’ the calls.
A spokesman said: “We’re absolutely clear that the NHS should not be picking up the tax liability or costs for individual agency staff – that’s not fair or right for patients and goes against the grain of what we know many nurses and doctors believe in.
“We are offering trusts direct support and advice on workforce planning, rota management, and securing support for shifts from elsewhere in the local area.
“We are also working with medical directors and agencies to try and tackle the culture that’s behind agency staff charging high rates, and bring longer term improvement.”
An email sent to staff at the Vic, which outlined ‘medical staffing issues’, said: “You may be aware we have at least a shortfall of potentially 14 doctors next week due to a national dispute regarding locum doctor pay.
“To this end, I would like you to attend a meeting so we can discuss how we manage our services safely next week.
“The directorate managers have been asked to plan proposals for each of their areas, and also to contact the heads of department, to ensure full attendance.”
Coun David Owen, local chairman of the pressure group 38 Degrees, said: “We have too few beds, too few nurses, and too few doctors, and this is, I suppose, supply and demand.
“It’s unfair from the top, and it’s unfair on us at the bottom. It’s just another example of why the NHS is going to pot.”
Blackpool North and Cleveleys’ Tory MP Paul Maynard said: “It’s important all employees pay their fair share of tax and we have seen many examples of where personal service companies are used as a way of mitigating taxi liabilities. It’s unfortunate the agency doctors feel the appropriate response is for the NHS budget to meet these tax liabilities, and I hope they can come to an amicable agreement.”
And Tony Williams, opposition leader at Blackpool Council, added: “We have to have a fair tax system for every single hospital worker.”
Labour’s Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden, was unavailable for comment.