An online 'doctor bank' could save the NHS millions of pounds by plugging hospital staff shortages at the last minute.
The scheme hopes to create a catalogue of locum doctors, who are essentially freelancers, to fill shifts at major hospitals across the entire country.
Currently, hospitals trying to plug last-minute gaps in their rotas have to fork out up to £4,000 per shift by paying expensive agencies for staff at short notice.
But the Locum's Nest Digital Collaborative Bank claims it can dramatically cut costs for cash-strapped health boards.
It does this by connecting the doctor to the hospital online without the human effort which would be necessary at a normal job agency, meaning it can charge less on top of the doctor's fee.
The digital staff bank works by connecting hospitals and doctors online so the hospitals can advertise when they need cover and have shifts available, and doctors can choose when and where to work (stock image)
Around 4,500 doctors are already signed up the scheme, being used by eight major NHS hospital trusts across the south of England.
They include health boards operating in Gloucestershire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Surrey, Hampshire and London.
Other similar agencies exist - but the Locum's Nest Digital Collaborative Bank is the biggest of its kind. It plans to expand nationwide.
Figures show the NHS in England is short of around 10,000 hospital doctors, placing even more pressure on hospitals ahead of the winter.
The Digital Collaborative Bank currently includes eight NHS trusts across the south of England: Gloucestershire Hospitals, Dorset County Hospital, Salisbury NHS, Hampshire Hospitals, Royal Surrey, Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals, North Middlesex University Hospital and Poole Hospital
Locums are so in demand that some hospitals are paying up to £4,000 for cover for a single shift, The Telegraph reported in October.
And thousands of shifts have to be filled each year – a trial of a similar doctor bank in south-east England saw 40,000 filled by locums last year.
Locum's Nest said if all of those shifts had been handled by a recruitment agency they could have cost the NHS £4.8million.
In comparison, it claims an online arrangement like its own bank could have slashed the costs down to just £500,000.
Whereas a traditional works by receiving a call from the hospital then ringing around its own clients to try and find a suitable match for a shift, Locum's Nest said its online system cuts this out and hospitals' online requests show up for doctors who have chosen a skill set and location which fit the job.
The doctor then applies for a shift online and the hospital directly chooses which one to employ for the work and simply clicks yes or no.
It claims to already have saved the eight hospitals it works with £26million over the last 18 months.
There are around 30 similar banks being developed around the country, in areas including Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, London, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
Health chiefs last year urged hospital trusts to only use costly agency staff as a 'last resort'.
The health service could free up £480million each year if