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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)

  • Prabu.... rethink your maths... rethink the value of General Practice.... everyone undervalues it.......I haven't even mentioned evening sessions or out of hours, weekends, when Consultants often get enhanced rates....... I never met a consultant wishing they could become a GP to make more money...have you?????

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  • I would argue that a GP is worth easily £100hr..... and to think about this privately.... would £25 for a 15 min consultation be unreasonable????? Compare this to a solicitors fees..... or a plumbers call out..... please STOP cheapening our profession.....

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  • I haven't even mentioned the consultants merit awards....

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  • Or dentists.....

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  • I am shocked....not at the fact people seem to be resenting each other (Grass is always greener).... just at the financial ignorance being demonstrated here...... it is not unreasonable for an experienced GP to be charging £100/hr.... at this rate they are no better off financially than their NHS consultant counterparts..... or do you believe the Daily Mail hype that you are all 'Just a GP' and worth less than your actual worth????

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  • @ Curious.

    Let’s take your £100 rate as an example.

    The average weight adjusted marginal income per patient is £68 per year.

    At 6 appointments per hour, thats a locum cost of £16.6 per appointment.

    The £68 a practice gets has to pay for Utility Bills, Receptionists, Telephones, Lights, CQC work, HR, Indemnities....

    The minimum appointments practices have been told to offer is 72 appointments per 1000 per week.

    This equates to 4.75 appointments per patient per year.

    But at your £100, the practice can afford the 4 appointments per year, and would not be able to pay for any of the above bills I have just touched on....

    So if everyone got £100 per hour, there would be no General Practice.

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  • Remember the days No one wanted to be a partner
    Everyone wanted to be Portfolio, Freelance LLP
    The world goes round and round

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  • Congratulations Anon GP - you've finally worked it out! This is why I'm in Australia.... UK General Practice is badly underfunded.... locums are not being unreasonable, what is unreasonable is the decrepid practice funding........

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  • There are tons of unfilled salaried and partnership posts where I work. Claiming benefits when such is the case doesnt make sense.

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  • @ S H Ko..... where abouts in the country are you???

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