SOUTHEND Hospital is relying on head-hunting recruitment agancies to find new senior doctors for its crisis-hit A&E department.

The hospital trust is struggling to hire consultants for the emergency department, after several senior doctors left.

Staff shortages have meant the department has struggled to meet waiting time targets since December.

It has now filled all its vacant middle-grade doctor posts and hired a new A&E manager, but still needs more senior doctors.

Chief operating officer Jon Findlay said: “We have recruited all middle-grade posts.

“Not all have started but they have all been filled and we are beginning to see improvements in these areas. We have contacted a head-hunting agency to find consultants.

“We expect the first interviews within the next week or so.”

A national shortage means hospitals across the country are struggling to take on enough senior A&E doctors.

However, a hospital board report highlights the trust’s increasing reliance on consultants and headhunters, with fees contributing to a £400,000 overspend last year.

Managers say the problem is not restricted to doctors.

Across all departments, a shortage of nurses means the target ratio of one nurse for every eight patients is not being met.

The hospital hoped to recruit 120 nurses from Spain, but so far , has only managed to take on 44 nurses – and they have yet to start work.

The hospital interviewed 105 people and put some unsuccessful candidates on a reserve list in case some of the 44 decide not to stay.

The hospital has made arrangements to support new arrivals and encourage them to stay.

However, non-executive director Tim Young admitted: “The experience of other trusts who have recruited in Spain is a number are not able to integrate.”

Staff shortages led to a huge increase in the cost of temporary staff in March – from slightly less than £1million in February, to £1.2million.