DOCTORS working out of hours over Christmas in the Lothians will earn up to £180-an-hour, it has emerged.
NHS Lothian has the second highest pay rate for festive working, behind NHS Ayrshire and Arran at £202.76 per hour. It is double the normal maximum fee of £90-an-hour.
Doctors’ leaders have been quoted as saying the higher rates of pay are necessary to make sure GPs are attracted to fill the shifts.
But patients’ campaigners have urged the NHS to look at reorganising the service next year to reduce costs.
The figures were revealed in today’s Scotland on Sunday and show wide variations between boards in what was offered.
Boards including Dumfries and Galloway and Forth Valley offered rates of around £100 an hour over Christmas, while in Shetland it was £64.
This Christmas, most boards have said they are close to covering their festive shifts.
Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GPs committee, defended the higher rates of pay, saying that they were needed to encourage doctors to work at these times of year.
“Some of the rates had not increased since 2004, and I think there was recognition that after nine years it was becoming a factor in the difficulty they were having in recruiting to the shifts,” he said.
“If doctors are prepared to give up what is a special time of year for getting together with your family then they are welcome to reap the rewards from that.
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said the hourly rates being paid to doctors in some areas were higher than some people could expect to earn in a week. “It is very important that we do cover these shifts, and if we are held to ransom we can’t do anything about it. We need them,” she said.
“But we should also be looking into it for next year and saying this is costing us a lot of money and is there some other way that we could be doing this?”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Sessional rates for out-of-hours GPs are a matter for NHS boards. All boards are expected to take appropriate action to ensure safe and effective delivery of care in this peak period.”