Locum bill soars after 19 attempts to recruit consultants to Daisy Hill A&E
ALMOST £4 million has been spent in two years hiring locum doctors to work in Daisy Hill hospital's A&E department - despite multiple recruitment drives for permanent staff.
There have been 19 attempts by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust to fill consultant and permanent doctor posts in the understaffed unit since 2015/16.
There is a shortage of senior A&E doctors across the north, with the Newry hospital and Causeway in Coleraine among the worst hit.
A Southern Trust spokeswoman confirmed that of the 19 recruitment drives, just two resulted in doctors taking up jobs.
Around 50,000 patients attend the Daisy Hill unit each year for emergency treatment. It is currently staffed by 1.8 consultants and a core of five locums (based on whole-time equivalent figures).
Meanwhile, there have been six attempts to find full-time doctors for the Causeway hospital's A&E department in Coleraine over the past two years - with all failing.
Officials at the Northern health trust, which is responsible for Causeway, also confirmed that locum emergency cover has cost them £2.5m over the past two years.
Of the four consultants staffing Causeway's A&E, three are locums.
Major gaps in doctors' rotas led to an announcement in April that the Daisy Hill casualty unit could be closed overnight.
Trust chiefs said contingency plans were being drawn up to ensure patient care was safe, including the transfer of patients to Craigavon Area hospital.
The move led to a public outcry and resulted in assurances last month that Daisy Hill would retain its round-the-clock status for at least another year.
Seana Grant, who is part of Newry campaign group Save Our Emergency Department, described the long-term workforce planning of health chiefs as "atrocious".
"Management tend to be reactive rather than proactive," she said.
"The language is still very much that of a temporary commitment to a long-term problem that the trust has created."