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Practice locum costs rise 9.5% in a year

Exclusive GPs face spiralling locum costs as they struggle to cope with a lack of availability of staff, increasing workload and commissioning obligations, Pulse can reveal.

A Pulse survey of 213 GPs found practices have experienced an average increase in locum fees of 9.5% over the past 12 months, slightly up on the 9% increase seen in 2011.

Some 59% said that they had seen locum costs rise during 2012, with 13% saying locum costs had risen by 25% or more.

Only 5% of respondents said their costs were reduced last year, while just over one third (36%), said they remained about the same.

GP leaders said the rise was the result of a combination of increased demand for locums and, in some cases, rising fees. One LMC leader warned that the figures showed that a lack of workforce planning was bearing down on practice finances.

The figures indicates an acceleration in the rise in locum costs compared with 2011, when a similar Pulse survey unveiled costs soaring by almost 9%.

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, said: ‘We seem to be getting charged more. It is based on regional and local supply and demand. It is the closest we have to a real market economy in medicine.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey, said locums should be paid a fair rate for their work, but that practices would struggle this year to balance the books.

He said: ‘Practices have been using locums more because of the need to attend more external meetings such as those organised by CCGs.

‘Many GP practices are operating in a tough climate where budgets are contracting yet workload is increasing. The Government’s decision to impose a series of changes to the GP contract will only make this situation bleaker in the years to come. In this environment, practices do have to make difficult decisions.

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He also warned that locum costs were set to be pushed up further next year, in addition to the responsibility for locum superannuation payments of 14% being passed to practices via compensation in the global sum.

He said: ‘This will result in a further drain on scarce resources. Despite these difficulties it is important that GP locums are paid a fair rate as they do a vital job in practices across the country.’

Dr Michelle Drage, chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said practices were struggling to maintain the payments they have traditionally made towards locum cover because of the financial pressure they are under.

She said: ‘Even the best-managed, best-staffed and best-resourced practices are now struggling. Paying locum superannuations is another thing on top of that which can only worsen the situation, adding to the pressure.

‘The point I would make is that as a profession we need to explore, much more strategically, the workforce. This is an absolute priority and should be also for the Government.’