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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)

  • 11.48am Comment-GP Partner-I am not a Locum, but I find your Comment particularly distasteful and Vindictive. People are locums for different reason.
    Be careful of what you wish others,it may well turn out to 'bite' you.

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  • curious agree! .. p.s I’m sure you could retire in several years at those rates.

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  • To all Locum Doctors not working due to Covid:
    Check the HMRC website, if u are self employed, and have not worked youare eligible to claim via the Self employed Government Scheme up to 2,500 monthly.HMRC has sent several Doctors Letter.Only if income affected during Covid and earn less than 50000 yearly .

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  • i left a high earning, dispensing, single handed practice in south wales in 2007, after i had a haemoglobin of 5, and a dvt in mt right (dominant) arm. the LHB (same as PCT in england) declined to give me any help, saying "you're either working or you're not - get on with it".

    so i left.

    i now work doing two days a week as a locum, and i'm very happy. the pay is not so good, and the work is often unpredictable - but you don't have all the admin shit that partners do. no PCN's, no fishing trips from lawyers, no being told to work weekends or bank holidays because of the corvid crisis (partly man made by NHSE poor management), no staffing issues, holidays when i like, more time with family, no CQC, no interference from the nosey parkers or administrators etc etc etc etc.

    the money is not as good, but then the outgoings are much less. and we should all keep enough to one side for the unexpected - letter from the GMC (remember bawa garba ?), government confiscating your pension, tax hike (it's on the way to pay for corvid), MI or CVA, car accident, etc etc etc.

    ok - there is a downside, but i'm not complaining. swings and roundabouts. i can't work at present anyway (severe COPD), but i'm looking forward to going back when all this is over.

    meantime classic cars and bikes still need fixing, garden needs doing, house needs maintaining, wife needs servicing, etc etc etc.

    so stop squabbling amongst ourselves, and make the best of a bad lot.

    i doubt the government read this, or they would realise the fury they are are causing, but they must be falling about if they are !

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  • ex partner, salaried and locum - the job is just s##te whatever you do. we are underpaid and abused in the NHS. the fact that doctors have come back unpaid and put colleagues out of work says it all about GPs in the UK. No support and all in it for themselves. Thats why the whole system is being torn apart by NHSE and government. we don't stick together as one. easy pickings. Salaried GPs are abused - have tried a few of these and the crap loaded onto to you is incredible - don't stick to the contract, turn up to find you are on call, despite no contract for this and no overtime paid, expected to turn up for training and no time back, low rates of pay, harassment and bullying for taking time off for study leave or holiday, constant moaning from partners, yet they have double the pay but expect same level of working as them. if you cannot get your salaried or partnership posts filled or have constant turnover issues or struggle to get locums in general the problem really is you. Fortunately put money aside for such times and covering a locum with a good employer. only ever work for a bad employer once. lots of bad GP employers out there. if you haven't looked after your regular locums during this crises they are unlikely to work for you when things get really busy or just put up their rates because they know they can't trust you. being nasty will backfire on practices. be warned.

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  • David Banner

    I am eternally grateful to our fantastic regular locums who have kept us afloat in some rough seas recently.

    And I don’t blame them for turning down our repeated offers of salaried/partnership posts.

    They have all accepted with good grace that we currently don’t need them.

    The offers of a permanent post remain on the table, but all have politely refused, despite their current difficulties. Again, I totally respect this.

    Hopefully they will still be available when we need them again. If not, c’est la vie. But we have treated each other with respect during both feast and famine, and see our relationship as symbiotic, not parasitic. Maybe that’s why they prefer to work for us, not elsewhere.

    Yes, they are expensive, probably too expensive (but that’s market forces for you), but as medical professionals and colleagues I have rhe utmost respect for them.

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  • It was Market Forces that pushed up locum prices, especially in London, especially from the agencies that charge 30% fees.

    No the market might be pointing in another direction....

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  • Dr Alpha... there are technically excellent, hard working GPs earning much more than I am with good skin cancer and occupational health practices built up. At least in Oz if you are industrious, you can create the opportunities for yourself in a way the UK denies....

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