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Q&A: Reducing the costs of locum cover

As a doctor, you’ll be more aware than most that anyone can be struck down with illness at any time. In most workplaces, a colleague would be able to take on some of the work of the absentee until they return to health. Hiring a locum can be expensive and it’s vital you understand who is responsible for bearing the cost of temporary cover and how you can go about mitigating this expense.

Q. What are typical rates for locums?

It’s important to understand how much locum cover could cost as this will influence whether or not you feel you will need locum insurance. Typical locum prices can vary dramatically across the country. A survey in 2012 showed the daily rate for a locum can range from £240 to £800 depending on where you are in the UK, while weekly rates can be as high as £4,000 in Yorkshire and Humberside and as low as £800 in North West England. This might be manageable for a couple of days, but for any longer than that it will soon become an expensive resource. When you see how easy it could be to rack up bills running into thousands of pounds, it becomes clear that taking out locum insurance is essential.

Q. Who is liable?

All GP practices are required to provide cover for absent doctors for up to 12 months, and the responsibility of who meets these costs is usually determined by the practice’s partnership agreement.

Typically, this agreement creates a mix of shared business liabilities for partners, including salaried GP and other staff costs, and personal liabilities. Many practice agreements make paying for locum cover the personal responsibility of the partner and it will be their individual decision whether or not to take out locum insurance.

Q. Who should pay the premiums?

What kind of locum insurance is taken out, whether it is an individual policy or a group policy paid for by the partners in the practice, isn’t a decision that should be delegated to any of the practice staff as it forms a key part of the family income protection planning for most GP partners. This is crucial in ensuring you have enough money to cover household and living expenses if you are unable to work because of illness or injury.

Q. What should you look for in a policy?

When you take out a locum policy, you need to ensure it suits your own needs and circumstances.

  • Check the policy includes an ‘own occupation’ definition. If the policy states ‘any suited occupation’ it means there won’t be a payout if you can still do other types of work based on your knowledge and experience.
  • Confirm the terms and conditions are permanent throughout the entire term of the policy, no matter how many claims are made or if your condition deteriorates. Check the terms don’t change during the renewal period each year.
  • Ensure the plan comes with guaranteed options so you can increase the cover without having to provide further medical evidence.

It is important to check the length of the ‘deferred’ period. It may be cheaper to have a longer amount of time between the date you’re taken ill to the date the insurance payments are made, but it may not always be the best option. It is recommended that the deferred period ties in with your personal circumstances and how long you can cover locum payments out of your salary and savings.

Phil Mileham is national sales manager at Wesleyan Medical Sickness.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Out of interest, could Pulse please run a poll to get an idea of how many GPs actually have locum protection insurance in place?

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