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The waiting game

Locum GPs forced to claim benefits as work dries up

Exclusive Locum GPs have been forced to claim state benefits after struggles to find work during the pandemic, Pulse has learned.

Locum GPs say that the reduction in patient demand for GP services during the pandemic has meant practices are less willing to use them.

At the same time, locum GPs told Pulse they are facing bureaucratic hurdles to join NHS 111's Covid Clinical Assessment Service, and retired GPs have offered to work for free for GP practices.

This has particularly hit locum GPs who have been ‘shielding’, and the lack of sickness benefits means that the self-employed GPs are having to decide whether to take the risk of exposure or not working.

Sessional GP leaders said they have been ‘cast aside’ since the pandemic started.

Dr Saumya Jha, a locum GP based in North London, told Pulse that she had to claim benefits having been unable to find lower-risk shifts such as remote triage and patient letters. She hasn’t worked since March, when she contracted Covid-19, she added.

Dr Jha told Pulse: ‘Things are just cancelled last minute and the shifts that are available are very hard to come by and are high-risk shifts with very limited PPE.

‘So people are really struggling to find employment because either you take the risk of high viral load exposure or you don’t work at all.’

One locum colleague has gone from earning £130,000 working 10 sessions last year to nothing over the last two and a half months because he is ‘scared’ to work in the high-risk shifts available, she added.

Another GP told the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) that they too have looked at claiming for state benefits after six weeks earning no money as a locum.

The anonymous GP said: ‘It has been hard as locums cancelled at short notice and it has been six weeks trying to get on the onboarding for CCAS to earn minimum wage.

‘I have looked at claiming state benefit honestly but [am] hopeful the CCAS onboarding will come through and I might not need to.’

‘Honestly speaking, [I‘m] living from hand to mouth - very depressing as I feel underutilised and very insignificant.’’

NASGP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse told Pulse that locums are being ‘cast aside’, particularly over the CCAS service that initially targeted retired GPs.

He said: ‘People feel really let down because retired GPs and medical students have been prioritised ahead of the existing locum workforce.

‘Locums are saying they’ve come across retired GPs who aren’t going to even ask for payment, they just want to do it to help out. [But] there are people desperate to pay the mortgage here.’

Meanwhile, locums - many of whom are more recently qualified and have not yet ‘built up financial resilience’ - are left with ‘absolutely no income protection scheme or sick leave scheme’, he added.

Nottinghamshire LMC wrote to locums last month to offer its support and reassure sessional GPs that they are ‘not forgotten’.

LMC GP retention lead Dr Sonali Kinra and chief executive Michael Wright wrote: ‘We acknowledge that there are limited locum opportunities currently.

‘The reasons are multiple - cancellation of annual leave amongst doctors and fear among patients thereby not accessing care, to highlight a few.’

GPs were encouraged to join an LMC GP ‘roving scheme’ that matches staff to areas of need ‘with appropriate PPE and IT equipment’ and to consider a fixed term contract modelled by the BMA.

It comes as Pulse revealed last week that locums were facing six-week long waits to access work at NHS 111’s Covid clinical assessment service (CCAS) - while NHS England said that it ‘still needs clinicians’ to staff the service.

Earlier this month, the BMA told Pulse it had provided an ‘off-the-shelf template contract’ for local areas to offer to locums while they still lack full death-in-service benefits.

Readers' comments (144)

  • I'm surprised that many people feel there will be a permanent reduction in demand for gp time. Either we have been working massively inefficiently (and things like econsult and doctor first will save the day) or uk patients will become significantly less bothered about their health. I just cannot foresee a world where we suddenly have massive gp spare capacity!

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  • I started locuming after 20 years in partnership in January after realising it was going to make me seriously ill and was just not a do-able job anymore. Fortunately I have always still enjoyed the patient contact and with OOH as a new experience and working in several new practices I have enjoyed the change and wouldn’t go back for the world. I have had one set of sessions cancelled and another practice reduce my sessions but picked up others and am working as much as I want ( more sessions than I could face in my partnership) I believe this change probably saved me from complete burnout. Whilst I hate reading the comments from some of the partners on here I can remember how angry I was at my situation last year so think I can understand it

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  • I might be wrong, but I can't imagine what kind of government benefits will equal the income from a salaried post.This kind of crazy choice ought to get partners to see what a horrible reputation salaried posts have now earned over time. The angry comments from some partners on here reinforce my rationale for leaving a salaried job which though well paid, was in a surgery with a high staff turnover, inflexible partners who never touched their admin work, often became suddenly unreachable whenever there were extra visits and no on-call system! It was chaos everyday and I was on edge constantly and getting burnt out. I've been hit financially by this pandemic as a full time locum but with this kind of attitude from some GP partners on here, taking up a salaried post will be back to the same slow death.

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  • doctordog.

    Shocked at the discord generated by this.
    Locums will always be a vital part of the workforce.
    Employing locums has always been positive for us , some locums being exceptional.
    We never expect a locum to perform the full range of tasks that a principal would do, workload has to be modified to suit.

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  • As a first 5 GP who has done purely locum work since qualifying, I feel fortunate to have acquired a salaried role just before the Covid crisis took full effect. In this way my timing was impeccable, helping to safeguard against some of the uncertainties of locum work. I still do some locum work on the side, for which the surgeries have been very appreciative. The salaried post gives the assurance of continuous work and a degree of financial stability but less flexibility. It is especially important to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be ‘misused’.

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  • WHO ONCE SAID --GPs KNOW MORE ABOUT FINANCES THAN SWISS BANKERS?

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  • More than swiss bankers???? Doubt it, they might know about it but most dont have it in the same quantities as the average swiss banker.... look at the houses, cars and lifestyle........

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  • NewbieGP , thanks for those comments which are absolutely correct, salaried GP posts are crap and GPs will always remain divided and never have one voice

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  • Can we all at least agree the job is crap even if we can't all agree on anything else? :-)

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  • Fantastic! The entertainment is in the comments. So clearly there is a trend where older GP docs tend to favour locum work, partners don’t like em because locums hurt their bottomline. Funny because it seems that now, younger trainees are now more open to travelling, living and working outside the UK and come back to retire. Wonder if the percentage of locums will go up due to the number of older partners who join them, and what the govt response would be.

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