Locums are one of the most underrated parts of the GP workforce, a flexible and adaptable cohort that plugs the gaps in rotas at short notice and works in areas that struggle to attract GPs. They are trained to be resourceful and adept at managing risk.
To say they are overpaid fails to recognise the service they provide and, more importantly, ignores a succession of blows landed on them in the past year.
The first was the decision that, from last April, local health bodies would no longer fund locum pension contributions for those working at GMS practices, leaving practices to consume the cost. The BMA believes that practices should pay but, as Pulse reported, some locums have cut their fees (by as much as 8% to 11%) to cope.
The second blow arrived through the withdrawal of funding for locums’ appraisals (around £300 a year, again previously paid for by the local health body). It appeared that it was being quietly dropped across many areas of the country; NHS England took ‘til May to confirm this payment would be stopped nationwide. The DH seems to have ignored both the financial strain practices are under, and the possibility locums might cut their income to pay their fees themselves.
These changes have left locums possibly the biggest losers in general practice, in financial terms. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the odd advert offering an apparently high salary is the norm for locums – these are rare, often for jobs in challenging areas or unsociable shifts that most locums couldn’t do even if they wanted to.
Dr Mark Porter, Dr Laurence Buckman and myself have raised these with ministers. But the profession must confront the fallacy that locums are paid enough to absorb these costs, which does not hold up under even the lightest of scrutiny.
Dr Vicky Weeks is chair of the GPC’s sessional GP subcommittee and a salaried GP in Southall, west London