GPonline has spoken to GPs who say they have been waiting for up to six months to be paid for shifts they worked via locum agency MKL Healthcare, registered in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
Locums who worked for the agency report being owed sums ranging from around £800 to in excess of £8,000.
Some doctors have now come together to hire a debt collection agency in an attempt to recoup unpaid fees. One GP said they had begun proceedings through the small claims court to try to secure payment.
MKL Healthcare director Mark Winter admitted that the company had been unable to pay all invoices to GPs - and estimated the total outstanding amount owed to locums at around £50,000.
He said the company had faced cashflow problems after being left out of pocket by providers who owed it more than £200,000 for locum shifts.
The cashflow problems that have led to unpaid invoices at MKL come just over a year after another locum agency, Primary Care People, collapsed after becoming unable to pay scores of locums for work they had carried out. Mr Winter is a former operations director at Primary Care People.
Locums owed money by MKL have received letters within the past month from an insolvency consultant working for the agency, informing them that the company 'is still awaiting monies due in to enable it to make further payments'.
The letter admits: 'It is possible that the directors will take steps to place the company into insolvency should the monies not be forthcoming. Alternatively, one of its creditors may take steps to do the same.'
Significant sums owed for locum shifts have left individual doctors under major financial pressure. One GP who said they were owed close to £8,500 by the locum agency explained they missed out on a mortgage because they were unable to show evidence of regular income over the period for which they had not been paid.
A GP who said they were owed more than £4,500 by MKL said: 'It was a good thing I had savings set aside and something to fall back on. I could have been homeless with a bad credit rating. The very thought of that left me stressed and anxious.'
Another GP, Dr Gabriel Ugamah, said he had been waiting since February to be paid for a shift he worked through MKL Healthcare. The West Midlands GP told GPonline he had called almost weekly asking to be paid, without success.
'I almost gave up until I heard other colleagues were in the same position,' he said. 'It's not right that people out there should operate like this. I had never encountered anything like it before.'
Mr Winter said his position was no different from that of locums waiting to be paid, because his company had not been paid in full by provider organisations. He said some locum GPs were set up as limited companies, adding that if they were not prepared to accept commercial risk he would 'suggest they take a salaried position'.
GPC sessional subcommittee executive member Dr Matt Mayer - himself a locum who faced a struggle to reclaim unpaid fees from Primary Care People a year ago - told GPonline: 'It is concerning and outrageous to hear that an agency would publicly say that locums should accept the risk of not being paid. If a business has such a significant cash flow problem that they are unable to pay invoices then I would question whether they should be trading.'
Dr Mayer said the BMA sessional subcommittee took non-payment of locums 'extremely seriously'. He said locums struggling to secure payment should send reminder invoices, and make 'every effort to recover the money via pre-legal channels'. If those methods were unsuccessful, options such as the small claims court, statutory demands or commercial debt collection agencies could be considered.
'We would encourage any BMA member GPs affected by non-payment to contact the BMA urgently so this can be escalated. They should also not hesitate to contact their elected sessional subcommittee representative so that we may take action. Our details can be found on the sessional subcommittee section of the BMA website. If any queries are marked FAO: Matt Mayer I will personally ensure they are addressed urgently.'