Exclusive Locum GPs are being offered shifts with day rates of ‘in excess of’ £1,000, Pulse has learned.
Locum agency Primary Care Medical Chambers (PCM Chambers) claimed these are the ‘highest locum rates in the country’.
There have been reports of similar fees in Northern Ireland, but this is the first report of such fees on the mainland.
GP partners expressed concern about the fees, warning that they will contribute to the ongoing recruitment crisis.
In an email sent to GPs last month and seen by Pulse, PCM Chambers said it has ‘in the last few days secured exclusive lucrative contracts to supply GPs to a number of practices across various locations in the UK’.
It is ‘looking to identify GPs willing and interested in earning in excess of £1,000 per day’, giving them the opportunity to ‘become one of the highest earning GPs in the country’, it added.
It said: ‘Naturally, this may require you to travel and work slightly further afield so contribution towards travel expense can be organised.’
All the participating GP practices can offer ‘anything from ad hoc sessions to three-month block bookings at the enhanced rate’, it added.
York GP partner Dr Abbie Brooks told Pulse that the rate is ‘scary’ and ‘not affordable’ but that ‘desperate’ practices will be forced to pay it because ‘locums are really hard to find at the minute’.
She said: ‘From a practice perspective, we find it really difficult to recruit locums and obviously there’s a shortage of GPs so I guess it’s a sign of the times and it’s a sellers’ market.
‘It doesn’t surprise me, I think it’s just a sign of how general practice is struggling and we can’t recruit permanent staff so I think some practices unfortunately will pay that, which is scary really.’
She also raised concerns that these costs are ‘just creating competition’ and therefore pushing rates ‘up and up’.
She added: ‘I do worry about the trend of paying locums more and more because there’s less and less of them – it’s not the answer. The crux of the issue is that general practice is not an attractive job anymore and people are leaving in their droves.’
Single-handed St Anne’s GP partner Russell Thorpe told Pulse that rates like these will perpetuate the recruitment crisis in general practice.
Dr Thorpe said: ‘The trouble is with the locum rate being so high, nobody’s really committing to joining a practice full-time, so it accentuates the problems that we have in general practice, which then makes the locum rates higher and we’re in a vicious circle.’
He said that while he’d never heard of rates that high before, he is ‘not surprised’.
And he added that the £1,000 paid to the locum doctors is ‘probably the tip of the iceberg’, as the agency may be ‘charging some exorbitant fee’ so that the cost to the practice will be even more.
National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse told Pulse that he is ‘disheartened’ to hear the news because a ‘typical’ locum chambers ‘would never – and could never – set a rate in this manner’.
In ‘proper chambers’ individual locums are self-employed and set their own rates, he added.
A spokesperson for PCM Chambers pointed to ‘significantly’ increased GP workload since Covid due to the pandemic backlog of consultations and the ‘ongoing GP shortage’ that ‘inevitably has caused practices to demand even more from an already overworked GP population’.
They said: ‘At the point PCM Chambers are contacted by such GP surgeries, our primary goal is to ensure we provide a GP to meet their specific requirements. Within this remit of guaranteeing patient demand is satisfied, increased rates are sometimes required.
‘GP rates will undoubtedly stabilise once the backlog has been cleared. Until then, if GPs are to be utilised to reduce this backlog of patient consultations and therefore the burden on the NHS, they will need to be paid for this.’
Rates of £1,000 per day have also been reported in Northern Ireland.
The Irish News reported that the Northern Ireland Department of Health offered GPs the fee to provide cover for two daily sessions on dates in July and August at a rural Co Tyrone practice facing a staffing ‘crisis’.
It said this is ‘more than double the standard rate of £440 per day’.
The Department of Health announced last month that Dromore and Trillick Practice’s contract would be taken on by a local trust from 1 July 2022 until March 2023 following ‘extensive work to identify a new GP contractor to take over the practice’ after its current GP resigned.
It said that the Western Health and Social Care Trust would ‘work with the Department to secure ongoing locum GP cover for the practice’ under the temporary arrangement.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Department of Health told Pulse: ‘The Department does not comment on contractual issues. Clearly, the priority has always been to ensure that GP services continue to be provided to local patients.’
In 2018, an investigation from Scottish Labour found that locum GPs in Scotland were paid up to £1,400 a day in rural isles the previous year.
The National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) revealed in January that locum bookings almost quadrupled from November 2020 to November 2021, with demand skyrocketing to its highest point in six years.