Doctors working overtime to compensate for seasonal staff exodus
Health administrations are spending thousands on locums and salaried staff are working overtime to compensate for a seasonal exodus of junior doctors.
As hospitals prepare for the predictable spike in emergency admissions during the Christmas period, junior doctors working as senior resident medical officers have resigned from some hospitals, leaving their colleagues to cover the shifts.
These junior doctors begin their specialist training in February and there is usually a slow drift of people who decide to take a summer break before starting their new jobs.
Several local health districts confirmed the early resignation of senior residents this year, including Northern Sydney, Western Sydney, South Western Sydney, Nepean Blue Mountains and Illawarra Shoalhaven.
Illawarra Shoalhaven reported a 3 per cent attrition rate during the year, amounting to 15 resignations.
Western Sydney Local Health District reported that 2 per cent of its resident medical officers had left before the end of their contracts this year.
Six resident medical officers have resigned this year at one Sydney hospital.
A medical workforce manager at a major hospital said there was often an unexplained spate of "ill parents" among senior residents after they received job offers about October.
The exodus created havoc with rosters, because it was difficult to find somebody to fill a position for only a few months and the locum agencies were fully booked.
The cost of hiring a locum to replace a junior medical officer is $70 to $120 an hour.
"It's poor form but you can't stop them doing it and they just take a nice break before taking up at another hospital, knowing full well they're not going to get any holidays or extra time off in the next four or five years," the manager said.
A doctor once left to work as a locum earning double the money until his new role started, the manager said.
"He left the whole team short. That's the problem – it's everyone else who's left to do all the work."
There is little consequence for those who break contract because they can find jobs elsewhere in the system.
Northern Sydney Local Health District said in a statement that most doctors who left early had provided valid reasons, but no official record was kept of those who did it.
"When appropriate, junior doctors are reminded of their signed letter of employment conditions and the potential impact their early separation may have on their fellow colleagues," the statement said.
Western Sydney chief executive Danny O'Connor said their shifts were covered by rostering extra staff and ad hoc recruitment.
"WSLHD aims to retain its junior medical officers for the entirety of their contract," Dr O'Connor said.
"However, the LHD also acknowledges that employees resign for a number of reasons, including changes in their personal and professional circumstances."
In 2015-16, NSW Health spent $90.4 million on locums to cover workforce shortages including those created by doctors being on sick leave or holidays.
Global Medics managing director Ryan Kevelighan said Christmas was a notoriously busy time for locum agencies.
The medical workforce was fully employed in Australia, and this made it difficult to source doctors available to work casual shifts.
"We're dealing with a workforce that have already got one or more jobs, so finding ways to backfill is even harder," Mr Kevelighan said.
"This particular time of year is one of our busiest, without a doubt."
The story Doctors working overtime to compensate for seasonal staff exodus first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.