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GPs go forth

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 thought there was a shortage of GPs - I am sure there are many unfilled salaried posts still advertised. Maybe a steady job rather than the uncertainty of being a locum has its advantages?

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  • I agree with above, there are many Salaried GP jobs available. We have had multiple applications recently for a Salaried post when we had almost none last year. I understand the flexibility with locum jobs but Salaried posts can also offer similar flexibility as required.

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  • Been waiting for this bleating.
    Tough. Its called Karma.
    Should have taken partnership when offered.
    Welcome to the real world of risk and reward.

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  • I am in the same position no work for 4 weeks as a locum and struggling to get the CCAS registration through. No luck so far but I keep trying.

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  • where do i begin on this one.......

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  • People are locums for different reasons. I’ve been a partner and it chewed me up and spat me out. I nearly lost my house. No one could of foreseen this happening. I am lucky that I have a CCG job with a regular income so not dependent on locum GP income. I don’t feel that comments such as it’s karma or bleating are helpful. No wonder we can’t improve our working conditions if we can’t pull together and support each other!

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  • National Hopeless Service

    Unemployed?? Plenty of partnership and salaried jobs out there.

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  • Been waiting for unpleasant comments like 11:48am. Anonymity to add to the unpleasantness, too.

    I don’t think using out of date over up to date doctors is good for patients.
    I don’t think doctors working for free is good for the profession (the Government may think otherwise...)
    I don’t think the CCAS shambles is good for anyone.

    I don’t think asking for sympathy is helpful - or reasonable, in my opinion.
    I do think we should all be angry that medical skills are being under-utilised in a pandemic - and we should reflect on the myriad reasons the locum workforce is needed in “normal” times.

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  • It's called market forces. We would far prefer the certainty of salaried GP colleagues/partners, but these have been virtually non-existent for the last few years and a readjustment has been inevitable for a while.

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  • Contractors are contractors in any market - being a doctor is irrelevant. Locum doctors are a necessary flex in the system but for some it seems to be a permanent state lasting years. Something needs doing - I wonder if HMRC took a detailed look at the sector and re-clarified the definition of locum - we might lose some but it might precipitate a change of status towards more substantive posts. Wont be popular but something needs doing centrally to balance the workforce.

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