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It’s time we expanded the locum chambers model

From Dr Richard Fieldhouse, chairman of the National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP)

In your news article ‘More foreign GPs are essential to hit 5,000 target’, Professor Maureen Baker says we need to ‘recruit, retain and return’ as many family doctors as possible.

She’s absolutely right, and a large part of this means making the most effective use of the GPs we already have. There are already two very effective models in place that do this, namely the salaried GP and the partnership model. But what of the 17,000 GP locums? This figure isn’t set to decrease anytime soon; in fact, it’s going to increase as our struggling practices find it ever harder to recruit.

It’s time we did more to expand the locum GP chambers model – small, efficient, professional units of motivated and dedicated locums that have developed symbiotic relationships with local CCGs and practices to support them through this climate.

So far, only a few of these chambers exist, mostly in Yorkshire and the Wirral in the north, but also in Avon, Wessex, Surrey, Sussex and London in the south. Where they do exist, they seem to be particularly popular with ex-GP partners.

The success and popularity of the chambers model has raised eyebrows, prompting some to ask whether they threaten traditional local GP practices. After all, if there were no partnerships, who’d employ locums? But while the demise of partnerships and loss of the leadership and dedication of GP partners would be a tragedy for the UK, locums aren’t the cause of this. Instead, they’re the effect of prolonged, gross underfunding. The workload and commitment of a partnership or salaried post is becoming impossible, and many GPs feel they can do a better job outside of these constraints.

The development of locum chambers is part of the solution to recruitment issues as they can help retain and attract GPs who would otherwise be lost to the profession.