A&E consultants offered £1,500 a night to be 'on-call' in hotel for Daisy Hill
CONSULTANTS have been offered at least £1,500 a night to stay in a four-star hotel on-call for a crisis-hit A&E department.
Senior doctors in Belfast have been approached informally with the offer - which could be as high as £1,800 - as part of efforts to address major staffing problems at Newry's Daisy Hill Hospital.
One medic said "in theory they may not have to work at all" for the money because they would be based at the Canal Court Hotel only as "back-up".
However, he said no consultant he knew had taken up the offer due to safety concerns and the "embarrassment" of working alongside nurses earning far less.
Locum rates for A&E doctors usually start at £115 per hour for overnight cover.
"There's not many places where you can walk out of a hotel after a night's work with £1,500 in your pocket," the doctor said.
"No-one has taken them up on it as far as I know because of concerns about safety. You could find yourself in the middle of the night working and very vulnerable.
"...There is also the issue of working with other staff including nurses who would be earning significantly less than you."
The troubled Co Down A&E department was last month given a reprieve to remain open on a 24-hour basis, following fears it would be downgraded due its reliance on locum doctors.
There was a public outcry following the initial announcement in April, with protest rallies and public meetings demanding the retention of round-the-clock services.
At a 'summit' of health bodies in early May, it agreed that "support" would be provided to the Southern trust from the across the north's health service to sustain the unit - though it was assumed the arrangement would not involve inflated pay rates.
The Department of Health confirmed that the Southern trust has held "preliminary discussions" with the north's other four health trusts as well as the Health and Social Care Board and its officials in relation to the "potential for a regional rota" to cover Daisy Hill.
"Terms and conditions" for A&E consultants willing to be placed on the rota formed part of these discussions, the department confirmed, but arrangements such as pay rates have not been finalised.
"The simple reality is that a safe Emergency Department service requires constant support," a spokeswoman said.
"It would be disappointing if the potential need for a regional rota resulted in the Southern Trust finding itself in the position of having no alternative but to pay what many would regard as an unreasonable rate, in order to maintain the service."
The department refused to disclose its definition of a "reasonable rate" and to comment on the proposed £1,500 on-call payment, saying it was a matter for the trust to respond.
The Southern trust also refused to comment on the figure, saying it was for "other trusts" to answer.
It said it has so far not been necessary to rely on support from other trusts, but this situation "is kept under constant review".