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GP practices' locum use surges 20% in a year

Exclusive Use of GP locums increased by a fifth last year amid the spiralling general practice workforce crisis, new data has suggested.

The figures, released by online locum website RLocums.com, showed that practices booked an average 110 hours of locum work via their website in 2014/15, compared with 92 hours in 2013/14 - a 19.6% increase.

Meanwhile, a survey of 5,500 GP users of the portal showed that an increasing number now choose to become ‘career locums’ - working full time in a sessional capacity rather than committing to work as a GP partner or salaried GP.

It also saw an rise in GPs supplementing their income via locum work, at an average income of £7,600 in 2014/15, up by a third from the previous year.

RLocums medical director and founder Dr Steve Leung, a GP in Brighton, said that the Government needed to take note of this trend or face a further worsening of the workforce crisis.

The RLocums survey showed the main reasons GPs abandoned commitments in practices were down to workload, including a GP partner who resigned after finding himself working ‘16 to 17-hour days’.

Surveyed members also pointed out negatives of working as a locum, including feeling excluded from CCG decision making and missing out on the opportunity to feel part of a team, however despite this, Dr Leung predicted this trends towards increased locum work to continue as working conditions for GPs in practices ‘deteriorate’.

He said: ‘If had to make a prediction for the next 12 months, I’d guess that working conditions for partners and to some extent salaried GPs will continue to deteriorate. This will continue to damage morale and the recruitment crisis will continue.’

The findings underline those from a Pulse survey of GP trainers last year, which put the number of registrars aspiring to become GP partners at 6%, while almost half wanted to go into locum work and 28% planning to go abroad.

GPs are finding it increasingly harder to recruit, with almost one in ten GP partner positions currently vacant, Pulse revealed earlier this year. Nine per cent of full-time equivalent GP positions were unfilled in April, compared with a 6% vacancy rate the previous year.

GPC workforce lead Dr Beth McCarron said the ‘undervaluing’ of GPs in the UK was ‘devastating’, but questioned who would wish to take on responsibility for a practice ‘in the current climate’.

She said: ‘I think it’s a huge shame what’s happened over the last few years in UK general practice.

‘Everyone knows continuity of care and stable practices are in the best interest of patients, but instead we are re seeing partners decide to reduce their partnership commitments… and young doctors shunning partnership and choosing to work as locums, leave general practice or go abroad.’

It comes as Pulse recently reported that overseas GP recruiters are able to use Government pledges on UK general practice, such as making routine appointments available seven days, against it in a bid to tempt doctors abroad.

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Readers' comments (26)

  • It's all part of the NHSE plan. Mate the job of a GP partner as difficult as possible. This encourages partners to resign and become locums. In time the existing GP practices will not be able to afford the extra cost of locums and so the remaining GP partners will retire. So then private business comes along sets up practices and employs GPs with greatly increased financial resources from NHSE. Job done

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  • to 11.51
    Very well, but where does this leave locums and salaried and their income.
    Will they be better off or worse off working for private companies?

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  • The current model, for better or for worse, of primary care is dead. All thats left now is the burrial/cremation.
    The government and private companies are definetly hoping to herd all GPs into salaried posts, on the cheap. However, they are underestimating us. We have options and becoming mindless drones is not one of them. Good luck to them I say but they have lost already. RELP

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  • This is self-publicity by rlocums and PULSE is not wise to run this article. It's meaningless about trend in locum use, it's one agency amongst hundreds.

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  • for those who think that this is unsustainble, eg@11:45 - why?

    there are not enough GPs full stop. It doesnt matter if theyre locuming or in partnership or whatever. There simply isn't the capacity. If a GP leaves partnership to locum, there is a larger locum pool but more work avaialble!

    Frankly I can see many partrners posting on here "its unsustainable" etc - this is simply scare mongering, I dont know if its from personal gain or simple jealousy. Until the supply/demand paradigm changes, locums will always have a job.

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  • Kosta Manis @12.11

    Who knows?

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  • Vinci Ho

    (1) Again , it is all about surviving as a GP in this country. Locum on the rise is a sign of times. There is not right or wrong about that . More of us will leave partnership and turn to sessional/salaried/locum , whatever , if you feel you are not too aged . The young ones cannot see the light at the end of this GP tunnel, of course they should protect themselves and choose something with more flexibility . Like everything else , there will be advantages and disadvantages . Choose with your head not with your heart in critical time of history like this.
    (2) Quite frankly , this government can't be fu**ing asked whether there will be any partner or locum/salaried left eventually. We are all ageing inevitably an they want to get rid of us because we are too 'expensive' in the eyes of these politicians . As I said before , they want to train their own 'universal soldiers ' to run primary care(can't you see the trend and the evidence already?)
    (3) When the lips die , the teeth are exposed cold. This is no time to fight against ourselves . The big bad wolf is right in front of us, comrades.

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  • In my area there aren't enough locums to go around and surgeries are having to make do.
    11.45 - we're all going to see our income plunge - locums, salaried, partners in federations large enough to survive - in the meantime I'll continue to locum and stay in control of my workload/income

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  • The article isn't very meaningful, more of a puff piece for rlocums. It could easily be that they are getting a bit more business rather than an actual increase in locum work.

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  • Why do we need a locum company to tell us this? Maybe because the government cannot although on the ground the trend is obvious. A glance at the published figures about our workforce reveals the lack of understanding of the situation by government. According to the HSCIC "There are 36,920 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) GPs, an increase of 626 (1.7 per cent) since 2013 and an increase of 5,899 (19.0 per cent) since 2004 (an average annual increase of 1.8 per cent). REALLY? The requirement to report on workforce was only enacted in 2012 before which there was no reliable method of data collection, which makes the baseline figures highly suspect.
    Surely we cannot be expected to believe this nonsense. According to HSCIC we have a total headcount 35,819 (fully qualified GPs) and from this pool there are 32,628 full time equivalents. Where are all the part-timers accounted for? Are we expected to believe that only 9% of GP work is part time? And has anyone challenged this publicly? Not as far as I can see. The BMA is probably too busy trying to distract itself with a public health non-issue like e-cigarettes. Oh yes, and on the previous comment about boom and bust - it is the independent contractor model which had its boom in the '80s and has been bust for decades - a situation perpetuated by GPs with their heads stuck in the ground.

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