Health

NHS drafts in extra A&E doctors to 'bolster units'

Ambulance, Liverpool Image copyright AFP
Image caption Junior and overseas doctors will help bolster A&E units over the winter, the Department of Health said.

The NHS is recruiting about 260 extra doctors in an effort to ease pressure on accident and emergency units in England, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

Junior and overseas doctors would help bolster A&E units over this winter, the Department of Health said.

An aging population was putting pressure on services, it said.

Experts said that the extra doctors would help, but that more experienced doctors were also needed.

Overseas doctors have been recruited on short-term contracts to help plug a gap in the number of experienced doctors in A&E and will start working from November.

There are about 240 A&E units in England, with about 160 of those being large A&E departments.

A&E pressure

Accident and emergency units generally see more demand in winter because of cold-weather falls, infections and other illnesses.

The Department of Health said that the NHS was facing rising general demand due to an aging population, and that 3,500 more people now go to A&E every day compared with 2010.

Separate research has indicated A&E units are under pressure from people unable to get a GP appointment.

About 5.7 million people, or around a quarter of attendees, had gone to A&E in 2012-13 after being unable to see a GP, the research suggested.

Mr Hunt said: "We know some parts of the NHS are under pressure because of increased demand. That's why we're investing in a record number of A&E doctors so patients continue getting treated quickly."

About 1,000 more medics were working in emergency units compared with 2010, the Department of Health said.

Recruitment

To cope with increasing demand, Health Education England (HEE) and the College of Emergency Medicine have overseen a recruitment drive for emergency medics.

The figure of about 260 extra doctors this year has been arrived at in a number of ways.

In total, 304 junior doctors had started their first year of emergency medicine training this summer, which was 101 more than last year, the department said.

Over 51 more junior doctors had been retained in emergency units this year, and 58 had transferred from other specialisms to emergency work, it added.

In addition, 50 doctors from India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Malaysia would be starting on fixed-term contracts from November onwards.

The overseas doctors had had to pass English language and visa checks, and had signed contracts to "work, learn and return" within four years, the department said.

Consultant 'shortfall'

According to research by the College of Emergency Medicine, there are only about three-quarters of the number of consultants needed in A&E units in England, with the shortfall being made up by locum doctors.

Gordon Miles, chief executive of the College of Emergency Medicine, said that extra junior and overseas doctors in A&E was "a great starting point" and "will help" but A&E departments still lacked the necessary numbers of experienced consultants.

Spending on locum doctors to plug the gaps in A&E units in England had risen by 60% in three years, Labour said in January.

The NHS in England faces a number of pressures, including a prolonged budget freeze. The NHS faced a funding gap of up to £2bn, about 2% of its budget, for the next financial year, the BBC reported in June.

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