HEALTH chiefs in North Wales admit they are struggling to fill over 100 vacant posts for hospital doctors by an EU deadline next month.
The crisis emerged as the NHS works on contingency plans to cope with predicted staff shortages caused by swine flu this autumn.
Across North Wales, around 80 junior doctors posts need filling, plus at least 24 posts for qualified doctors in north west Wales.
Hospitals have to comply with the EU working time directive from next month, which restricts junior doctors to a 48-hour week, compared to the average 56 hours since 2006.
Rules on the recruitment of overseas doctors are also being blamed for exacerbating the problems.
Hospitals in the region need around 500 junior medical staff to staff the specialities on the wards.
A spokesman for the North Wales NHS Trust, covering Wrexham Maelor and Glan Clwyd hospitals, insisted plans were being drawn up to ensure patient safety if posts could not be filled. A statement said: “The North Wales NHS Trust is working with the North West Wales Trust and the Deanery in Cardiff to fill as many of these vacancies.
The auditor general for Wales Jeremy Colman, the Assembly Government spending watchdog, warned in March that the NHS was on course to miss a European limit on junior doctors’ working hours.
Not all NHS trusts have prepared adequately, leaving them vulnerable to legal action and fines, he said.
The North West Wales NHS Trust, covering Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor and Llandudno hospitals, said it had 46 vacancies, of which 22 were training posts, and 24 for qualified doctors.
It had a comprehensive contingency plan in place to deal with swine flu to ensure that necessary services were kept running.
Staff may have to be transferred from non-urgent departments into emergency, and in extreme situation non-urgency operations re-scheduled.
Dr David Samuel, chair of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee in Wales, said that the NHS had known about the EU directive since 1997.
“For 12 years, they should have been planning ahead anyway,” he said.
He added “There is a perception among certain medical students and doctors that North Wales isn’t a fashionable place to work.”
The BMA hoped to discuss the potential for a financial incentive for young doctors to commit their medical futures to North Wales.