THE Royal Blackburn and Burnley General hospitals have received their highest ever temporary staffing bill - despite repeated efforts to slash spening in this area.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust spent £1.9 million on bank and agency staff in January, more than double the target of £800,000.

The trust has failed to meet the target for every month of this financial year, and the issue has been repeatedly highlighted by the Lancashire Telegraph.

Much of the bill was due to gaps in the permanent workforce, such as the eight vacant middle grade doctor posts in Blackburn’s emergency department.

The vacancies are partly due to a national shortage of doctors wanting to work in A&E.

Employing an agency doctor can cost £1,500 per shift, about four times as much as filling a shift with permanent staff.

One of the concerns raised in last year’s Keogh Report, which prompted NHS chiefs to place ELHT in special measures last year, was that the high number of temporary workers had compromised the quality of care for patients.

A major recruitment drive in recent months has seen about 120 extra nurses added to the workforce, but bosses said more agency staff had been necessary to sustain safe staffing levels over the busy winter period.

Non-executive director Liz Sedgley said she was ‘struggling to get her head around’ January’s bill, however, and questioned whether errors had been made in bringing in staff who were not needed.

But Kevin Moyes, interim director of human resources and organisational development, told Wednesday’s board meeting: “With further recruitment we should see this coming down.

"What’s happening in a lot of areas is we are letting off more people [on annual leave] at one time than we should.

“We’ve had really frank and robust discussions with the divisions.”

David Smithson, head of human resources, added: “Occasionally, we need to secure temporary staff to cover for vacancies and absence so that we continue to deliver high quality patient care.

“This means sometimes we are paying a premium price for agency staff to ensure the quality of patient care is consistent.

“The trust is actively recruiting; locally, nationally and internationally to fill vacancies on a permanent basis.”