A new European directive giving agency staff the same rights as contracted employees is set to drive up to the cost of locums for practices.
From 1 October, the Agency Workers Directive gives agency workers the entitlement to the same or no less favorable employment and working conditions, if and when they complete a qualifying period of 12 weeks in a job. Some rights apply from their first day of work.
After 12 weeks in the same job, GP locums who work for an agency will be entitled to the same durations of working time, rest periods and breaks, annual leave and public holidays as employees.
They will also have matched rights in night working, paid time off for ante-natal care and pay – including basic pay, overtime payments, shift/unsocial hour premiums and holiday pay.
Londonwide LMCs has told members the new directive will only affect practices that use locum agencies or introduction services to recruit GPs, and advised it will not apply to GP locums employed directly by a practice on a fixed contract.
But there are fears it will make GP locums working at agencies substantially more expensive, in a period when locum fees are already rising sharply.
In August, a Pulse snapshot of locum fees, obtained from locum insurance specialist MIC, showed some agencies were hitting GPs with charges of £160 per hour.
Rosemary Smith, owner of medical accounting firm RS Accountancy, said a drastic shortage of doctors was already driving up locum fees, and that the new directive would only exacerbate the problem.
Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chief executive of the National Association of Sessional GPs, warned the rule change could even ‘backfire’ for locums themselves, by making practices loath to take them on for long periods: ‘On the surface it looks good for locums but it could backfire. There is a danger GP practices will simply let locums go at 12 weeks and lead to less opportunities for locums.’