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GP recruitment issues push locum rates to £1.4k a day in one area

Locum GPs in Scotland were paid up to £1,400 a day in rural isles last year, an investigation from Scottish Labour has revealed.

The data, obtained via freedom of information request responses from NHS Scottish Health Boards, exposed a large variance in GP locum compensation based on location.

The BMA said the severe shortage of doctors had had an impact on the rates that health boards and practices were having to pay to secure cover.

The latest figures mirror a report from Audit Scotland in October which that health boards spent £109 million on agency medical locums in 2016/17, an increase of 6% in real terms from the previous year.

Locum GPs in isolated northern isles in NHS Orkney were paid up to £1,400 for a day’s work, with an average daily rate of £700. This compared to lows of an average rate of £90 a day in NHS Dumfries and Galloway, the southernmost region of the country. Here the highest daily rate recorded was £140.

High daily rates were not confined to rural spots. Average charges peaked in NHS Lanarkshire, at of £852, with the highest daily rate at £1,133.

Dr Karyn Devlin, a GP partner in Lanarkshire, told Pulse her practice pays a minimum of £250 a day for locum cover for a maximum of 15 patients seen and no additional work, which ‘adds significant pressure on colleagues’.

Dr Devlin said the situation her region is ‘pretty poor’, despite the lower rates indicated in the Scottish Labour investigation. She added: ‘It’s made worse as we have some of the highest patients per GP numbers already. A number of practices are going under.

‘Locums are the way you often are best able to recruit long term to a practice. So it is diminishing our ability to plan for the future as well.’

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Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee said: ‘GP practices across Scotland have faced severe difficulties in recent years in filling vacant GP posts and that shortage of GPs means there are also not enough locums to go around.

‘That has an impact on what practices and health boards are having to pay to secure locum cover.’

He added the only long-term solution to recruitment problems was to make GP an attractive career choice for young doctors

‘The new GP contract implemented in recent months sets us in the right direction to achieve this, but it will take time for its effects to be fully felt.’

Labour shadow cabinet secretary for health Anas Sarwar said: ‘It is utterly shocking that the SNP GP crisis has created a situation where locum costs are over a thousand pounds a day.

‘The reality is the SNP has underfunded primary care for over a decade and as a result family doctors are left over-stretched, overworked and under too much pressure.’

In response to the figures, a spokesperson for newly appointed Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman said they aimed to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over the next ten years to meet demand and that the new GP contract would help to take pressure of GP workload.

‘We are continuing to drive down the use of agencies and have been clear with Boards that they should only use agency as a last resort when temporary staff are required.’