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GP practices increasingly reliant on use of locum doctors, survey suggests

More GP practices are employing locums, with a 51% jump in the number of locum hours used by surgeries year-on-year, a survey by a locum agency has suggested.

Online locum provider RLocums, which surveyed its 4,000-strong membership finding that user practices booked an average of 128 hours of locum work in 2013/14, up from 84 hours in 2012/13.

The company also found that the average age of its locum GP workforce had declined, with the average age of new doctors registering falling from 39.8 in 2004 to 33.9 in 2014.

The site’s founder Dr Steve Leung, a GP in Leicester, said younger doctors were turning to locuming to retain a healthy work-life balance.

He said: ‘There’s increased flexibility, better work-life balance, better control of your work professionally. Newly qualified GPs now want a more flexible experience to try to work in a number of different practices before choosing somewhere to settle down.’

National Association of Sessional GPs CEO Dr Richard Fieldhouse said the findings were consistent with his anecdotal experience, which is that GPs increasingly want to see patients without having to deal with the ever-growing administrative burden of partnership.

He said: ‘It’s very depressing that GPs are now just totally fraught. It’s not good that being a partner isn’t as attractive as it used to be.’

It comes as a Pulse survey in 2013 found that the cost of using locums had spiralled as practices were struggling to fill GP vacancies.

Readers' comments (11)

  • More the fool for the GP practices.

    If we carry on with this, we will self destruct as the service offered would be no better (if not worse) then APMS provider with high turnover of salaried GPs. If we want to justify our existence, we must look at what we do which cannot be provided by a private provider and I believe continuity and cost effective clinician (partners are one of the most cost effective GP in primary care) are two to name a few.

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  • worked as partner for over 7 years. badly regretting decision to be partner. my friends works as locum earns more with less work and better balanced life.

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  • As a partner of 15 years, it's sad for me to say that partnerships in general practice are not the future. Those clinging on to ideas like duty, continuity, vocation are living in another world and another era. How can we value what we do when we don't value ourselves and neither does our "employer" or our patients, sorry "customers"? The doctor patient relationship is so messed up now that it's hard to practice quality medicine. There are many reasons we find ourselves in the current position but yearning for the good old days is not going to bring them back . You have to work with the reality in front of you. Partnerships will be dead in a few years except for a select few leading large institutions working in a executive non clinical capacity. The rest will be runts working in groups with nurse practitioners, dealing with difficult cases taking all the responsibility with little pay. Locum work is having a current golden period with lots of work available but mark my words, there will be directives from NHS England ccgs etc which will soon freeze them out. Many possible avenues to do this the least of which will be appraisals and revalidation. Large organisations will use employed floaters instead of locums as a cheaper alternative. So while it looks rosy now, hard times are ahead. Truth is doctors are not the future of primary care except in a limited capacity. I don't believe the current manpower/ workforce planning was an error and is clearly intentional. Get ready for employed work at £40k full time as a GP whether you are a partner locum or currently salaried. And for that you will work harder than a current partner does. Who is to blame for this? The bma and RCGP who with their visions of primary are sooooo out of touch it's unbelievable. They have been out manoeuvred. The only hope is that the public and the government see sense. But thats wishful thinking and will never happen. It's Checkmate! It really is every man or woman for him or herself!

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  • or alternatively can migrate...which I will do in < 3 months after doing all the requirements :))happy to say!

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  • Anonymous | GP Partner | 18 August 2014 9:46pm

    hits it on the nail.

    We don't have the cohesion or self respect to fight for ourselves.

    Until we start showing some teeth the shit will always roll downhill.

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  • all doom n gloom. Does anyone have a positive vision of GP?

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  • Develop a federation across a large enough geographical area, strip out of each practice those admin tasks which could be offered by a centralised back office (with interoperable clinical systems this is not a problem) - why is every practice employing admin staff to run systems (finance/payroll/procurement/hr) which any other business-like businesses have outsourced years ago

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  • Today, employing locum doctors is the way to manage dwindling and uncertain finances. With difficulty in recruitment acorss the board either through inavailability of funds or through willing doctors to commit themselves for a slightly lower salary, it has been a life line for at least some Practices like mine.
    When we don't have money, we open the Surgery a bit longer to give more appointments and when we have the resources, we employ locums. If we had a salaried GP, we would have gone bust long ago.

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  • Partners abandon ship (sorry! - Retire), the new box of GPs don`t want the grief or see any future as a Partner so become salaried or take the option to locum where there is less chance of having to carry any responsibility or interest over to the next week or day. No wonder locums are being used to fill the gaps when we cannot get a qualiofied doctor to address the growing demands of patients that are fuelled by politicians ramping up their expectations to get re-elected/ kick the `other lot` out. If GPs would only put aside 65 years of perceived `independence` and become more collaborative then there would be a chance of survival in larger and more powerful GP-led organisations. If you keep on doing what you have always been doing then you will keep on getting what you have always been getting - and in this case it`s `shafted`!

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  • GPs would be better off retiring at 55 and going locum. Take your pensions because you'll soon be paying 30% of your salary every month towards contributions while politicians and lawyers open limited companies and pay 20%.
    Even if you get a smaller pension at 55, you will have a life worth living, an independence you will enjoy and satisfaction that you are not being discriminated by a vile system.

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