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A faulty production line

GPs face soaring locum cover bills for maternity leave

By Nerys Hairon

GPs are warning they face mounting bills to cover maternity leave despite increases in locum allowances under the new contract.

Locum reimbursement for partners on maternity or paternity leave will rise 6.5 per cent to £948 a week from April, but GPs said cover costs were as much as £1,800.

GP negotiators said they gave the Government evidence of spiralling locum costs during contract talks but it refused to increase reimbursement in line with rising rates.

'We told the Government the rates GPs were actually paying and they decided the [new] rate,' said GPC negotiator Dr Laurence Buckman.

Dr Frank Debney said the policy was 'discriminatory against women'.

His 11-partner practice in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, lost £13,000 in income last year

after it had to pay £1,400 a week ­ compared with the reimbursement of £890 ­ for a locum to cover a partner on maternity leave.

'Why should we subsidise the NHS? Or should we say you are only offering £900-worth of £1,400 pay, so we are only offering £900-worth of work?' Dr Debney said.

Dr Miranda Farmer, a GP in Congleton, Cheshire, said she had been forced to call 70 locums to find cover for her maternity leave this year. One GP had asked for as much as £370 for a full day.

'It seems there is a crisis for longer-term locums as all the locums in our usual pool have been siphoned off by primary care trusts to salaried posts,' she said.

The National Association of Non-Principals said around 1,000 locums had been lured into salaried jobs by the flexible careers scheme and this had led to shortages.

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chair of the association, said PCOs had to do more to 'nurture locums'. He added: 'Each PCT should set up a non-principal support team, or NHS locum practices. If trusts nurture locums more it might bring locum rates down.'

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