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.