Figures, drawn from data published by NHS Improvement, which oversees health trusts, show the total spend on temporary staff last year was £2.9billion.

Of this, analysts say 16 per cent goes to emergency departments, which equates to £1.27million a day.

Dr Chris Moulton, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “These figures show Government interventions to try to avert the winter crisis have been too little too late. We know winter is coming every year. The whole system is gridlocked. We are portrayed as a group of spendthrift doctors calling for more resources all the time but we don’t need many more resources. The first thing we need is enough beds. Just one extra ward and its nurses for each hospital would make a huge difference.

“This would cost relatively little when you consider we are spending over £1million every single day on temporary locum doctors and nurses for emergency departments.”

He added: “My worry is that we will be having the same winter crisis conversation on December 1 this year. If the flu outbreak escalates on an already struggling system it could spell disaster.”

The £2.9billion figure comes from an NHS Improvement report for the financial year of 2016/17.

It states agency staff costs then were £2.9billion, down from £3.6billion the previous year.

However, a spokesman for NHS Improvement said it did not recognise the figures and that the £2.9billion was for all types of NHS agency staff, not just doctors.

He said that, to date, the 2017/18 year’s figures were 19 per cent lower than the year before, adding: “While there will always be some times when the NHS needs to use agency staff, their overuse is bad for patients and for the taxpayer.”

Dr Adrian Boyle, an emergency medicine specialist based at Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge, said: “Flu is the excuse for the failure of proper planning by NHS England. Winter viruses are entirely predictable.

“We knew an outbreak was coming and that we were going to struggle.”

Last week the heads of 68 A&E units wrote to the Prime Minister warning that patients were “dying prematurely” amid “intolerable” safety risks.

Figures show Britain has a lower number of beds than almost any other comparative country with 2.6 per thousand population compared with an average of four per thousand.

A total of 12,000 acute hospital beds have been lost over seven years.

The figures follow reports that A&E performance at major units is the worst on record, with fears the situation will worsen amid rising cases of norovirus and flu.

The letter from the most senior doctors at A&E units across the country said the health service was “chronically underfunded” and ill-prepared for winter.

They said more than 50 patients at a time had been left waiting for beds in casualty units, with 120 patients a day being managed in corridors, “some dying prematurely”.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “These figures bear out the repeated warnings of the college and others, and make it clear that patients are suffering due to inadequate planning and resourcing. Our A&E departments are not just under pressure but in a state of emergency.”

Daily Express

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