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- Figures taken by official body show 23% of paediatric doctor posts are unfilled
- Nine in 10 children's units are worried about how they will cope in the future
- Many desperate trusts are turning to locums who charge 'extortionate' fees
- But they are turning down the work on children's wards as a result of a pay cap
Children's wards could be on the brink of collapse due to a shortage of paediatric doctors, experts warn.
Due to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis that is gripping the country, 23 per cent of such posts to treat poorly infants are unfilled.
Struggling to fill gaps on wards to treat youngsters, nine in ten children's units are worried about how they will cope in the foreseeable future.
Desperate to find stand-in doctors to keep the services running, many trusts are turning to locums who charge 'extortionate' fees.
But even these are turning their heads from working on children's wards as a result of an imposed cap on agency staff.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health were behind the findings which have been labelled as a 'wake-up call'.
Due to the ongoing NHS staffing crisis that is gripping the country, 23 per cent of such posts to treat poorly infants are unfilled
Simon Clark, workforce officer at the college, said youngsters are being given interrupted care as hospital's battle to find cover.
He said: 'Large gaps in the paediatric workforce have a serious impact on doctors and vital hospital services.
'More senior doctors end up back-filling the gaps, which in turn also leads to cancelled services.'
He added: 'These figures should act as a wake-up call for Government to act now.'
The professional body's survey was conducted on the most senior doctors at two thirds of the 211 paediatric units in the UK, the newspaper reports.
In addition, it found 19 per cent of jobs below consultant role are unfilled – a four per cent jump on the previous year.
Some 41 per cent of these gaps are filled by locums, who have been found to charge fees of up to 3,600 for a day's work.
While many overnight shifts for paediatric doctors are being filled by staff who are untrained to do such roles, it found.
Desperate to find stand-in doctors to keep the services running, many NHS trusts are turning to locums who charge 'extortionate' fees
Caps on locum pay were introduced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2015 to slash a growing bill for agency doctors – of which the NHS has become reliant on.
It prevents locums from receiving more than 55 per cent above the wage of an equivalent staff member, meaning consultants get no more than 76 an hour.
Their fees are known to be putting even more pressure on already overwhelmed hospitals, with the NHS spending 3 billion on agency staff.
But such impositions have meddled with the staffing cover in children's units, as eight in ten surveyed said the cap has worsened the crisis.
DWINDLING NUMBERS OF GPS
In May it was reported more than 900 family doctors left the NHS last year – despite a special programme designed to eradicate the growing shortage.
Numbers of GPs across England are known to be dwindling in recent years, placing even more pressure on an over-stretched health service.
In September 2015, there were 34,592 full-time GPs across the country. This dropped to 34,495 just a year later, NHS Digital data showed.
While the number of these doctors has fallen by 542 since last April, when the NHS adopted a plan to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2021, Pulse reported.
It shows the health service is falling well-short of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's pledge, which was said to be the answer to the staffing shortage.
Figures obtained by the body from the previous year show that 47 per cent of the gaps were filled by locums.
Unable to attract locums
One doctor told the body: 'The cap means we can't offer a rate that is attractive to locums. They were difficult to attract without a cap and almost impossible with.'
The latest findings come amid a nose dive in applications for other roles, such as nurses, doctors and paramedics.
A surge in demand on NHS services combined with slashed funding mean trusts up and down the country are desperately battling to recruit.
Doctors have warned general practice is now at breaking point, with morale at an all-time low and many GPs abandoning the profession.
Hundreds of GPs are known to be retiring or quitting the NHS each year, triggering more than 200 closures of practices in the past year.
Overhaul of targets
Ambulance time response targets have also been given a major overhaul, partly due to the staffing shortage, leaving victims of suspected heart attacks and strokes having to wait ten minutes longer for an ambulance.
In a huge shake-up of the 999 service, the eight-minute response target is to be scrapped. Sufferers will now typically have to wait 18 minutes for help.
Earlier this year a health boss warned the NHS is in danger of facing a recruitment and morale crisis if the Government doesn't address concerns over pay freezes.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said he feared staff will flee the NHS in the coming years unless measures are taken to improve pay.