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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)

  • People are getting far too personal on here.

    Locums have to realise that their position inherently means there is no job security.

    Partners have to realise that locums were well paid with less work and of course they would stick with that.

    What I dislike is the entitled that some locums have that somehow the system owes them work. And the partners who feel that locums were taking advantage of partners. We're all adults here.

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  • "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"...

    Sounds to me that he made a personal choice?

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  • Difficult time for locums. Try and support them. Especially the ones who helped you out in the past. We will need them again.

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  • Never seen so many comments before on one subject so quickly. Furlough should apply I think as they are self employed and no locums available due to corona??

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  • Former partner now locum | Salaried GP21 May 2020 2:03pm

    Whatever the reason one may have doing locums in the past, one has to accept the landscape has changed dramatically.

    Only the trees that bend can wither the storm, so adapt my friends.

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  • I could t agree more with Curious.
    Stop in fighting. Start asking for what you are all worth.
    Another pay freeze is on its way for a long long time

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  • Vinci Ho

    Don’t really want to be judgemental in here . This is another phenomenon which demonstrates how devastating Covid 19 is in terms of impacts in medical, economic and social terms . The ramifications are far reaching and could have been even worse if the government did not pay off the 80% salary in those being furloughed . For those with non-contractual employment i.e. our locum colleagues , lack of realistic job security has led to this plight of no income tragically . Equally , I am not convinced that we should blame those retired colleagues volunteering to work for free in the middle of a human disaster .
    Truth is , a locum life is entirely determined by demand and supply in the market . Making the choice to be whether partner , salaried or locum always carries pros and cons . Perhaps , some people might not have thought through about their choices in the first place ,given their individual circumstances. For partners and salaried ones , what our workload will become post Covid 19 remains an uncertainty especially against the backdrop of the PCN DES(yes, one can choose not to sign it). Once the level of workload becomes unbearable again , locums are in need once more ?
    All I would say is our profession has been in a crisis prior to Covid 19 and it simply turns it into a double-crisis .

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  • Hi, I'm a locum and have met few GP partners who seemed to actually enjoy their work (often overworked, burnt out, point of breakdown), bar the ones who ran exploitative practices where they had a lack of involvement in patient care (and I they didn't seem very happy either) or I would describe them as dysfunctional characters (again not happy people !). The salaried doctors weren't far behind. I've financially prepared myself for a potential downturn like this (more for illness rather than once in a 100 year pandemic) but that is because I've done this for a while and feel sorry for newer locum GPs or those with serious health issues who need help. I will probably have to change the way I work, but will not give up on preserving mental health !

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  • Locums have helped practices in past but they have charged practices current rates as well. In current scenario when there is not much work or should i say not much face to face interactions, I cannot see how practices will employ locums.
    I personally offered salried job to my long term locum 6 months before pandemic hit UK. He politely refused saying he makes more money doing Locum. Fair enough. Now practice doesnot need Locum. We poliety replied when he enquired for shift that at present we dont need locums when we need we will contact you.
    Frankly We all will change the way we practice and in future I see lot less demand for locums than before

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  • The floodgates will soon open again soon. Surgeries will be crying out for locums again as they are inundated with hundreds of calls a day from angry taxpayers wanting overdue referrals and letters demanding that their bunion surgery be expedited on a 2ww pathway.

    Not to mention the huge number of sick note requests now that the UK has off the scale unemployment contributing to the ever-growing mental health/addiction time bomb.

    Partners on here saying this is all karma are treading on thin ice. By July the workload will be far higher than usual for the summer months.

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