SOUTHEND Hospital must slash its anticipated £10million spend on agency workers which could pay for up to 400 new nurses, a union says.

Hospital bosses warned costs for locum doctors and agency nurses could reach £9.79million by the end of the financial year.

The news has been criticised by the health union Unison, a GP and patients, but the hospital insists it is doing all it can to recruit new staff.

Sam Older, regional representative for Unison, said: “Agency workers are there to fill the gap, but clearly this level of gap is too big.

“The hospital needs to work out where the gaps are, and we believe its mainly in doctor roles, as they command the biggest rates, and must recruit to fill them with permanent staff.

“The £10million figure would equate to 300 or 400 nurses. These are enormous sums of money being handed over for locum doctors.

The situation can’t continue.

“Cutbacks from Government to save money are actually costing more as hospitals are filling posts with expensive agency cover.

”The patients will see a difference. If someone is a regular at a hospital they want to see a familiar face.”

The hospital has set up a vacancy panel to recruit staff, created an overseas recruitment plan for nurses and started a European recruitment drive for doctors.

However, Dr Krishna Chaturvedi, a Westcliff GP, added: “Agency and locums are not only expensive, but clinical gaps and clinical efficency is greatly affected, which concerns our patients and us the most.”