'I'm left feeling completely undervalued': a GP locum's pandemic experience

A locum GP describes how the COVID-19 crisis has left them without work and struggling financially.

(Photo: Virojt Changyencham/Getty Images)
(Photo: Virojt Changyencham/Getty Images)

A year ago I left partnership to become a full-time GP locum and if you had asked me at the beginning of the year how that was going, I would have told you that it was the best thing I had ever done for my health, my family and patient care. 

Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic had the potential to change all of that.

At the beginning of the pandemic I was worried about the clinical challenges that I may face – and invested a considerable amount of time preparing. But I never anticipated that, six weeks on, that I would be worrying about how I was going to be pay my bills.

Struggling for work

Bookings are drying up as GPs partners and salaried GPs cancel annual leave and the expected rise in short notice bookings due to staff sickness has not materialised. I suppose it’s testament to the success of lockdown measures implemented over a month ago.

My medical chambers has worked tirelessly to promote our availability to all our local CCGs as they developed their COVID-19 services, but we are just not needed.

I have also applied to work for NHS England's COVID-19 Assessment Service (CCAS) - hoping to help my NHS colleagues and supplement my dwindling income. But I am yet to hear back like others who have reported being unable to get NHS 111 work. I suspect I am surplus to requirements after over 6,000 retired GPs stepped up following the government's appeal.

The guilt is tremendous when patients, friends and family thank me for what I’m doing because the truth is I rarely even speak to a COVID patient let alone care for them.

Facing unemployment

Being a locum is inherently risky compared with being a salaried GP or partner but I could never have predicted a global pandemic of all things would leave me facing potential unemployment.

I wonder how the health secretary would respond to the fact that the locum GP workforce, which is said to make up around 20% of the UK’s GPs, is unable to work because of the pandemic? Or how the chancellor would respond to the fact that many GPs face financial hardship.

The government's self-employment income support scheme has failed to help some locums as they work full-time and earn over the £50,000 threshold. Add the insult that is the death-in-service fiasco and I’m left feeling completely undervalued.

I am really pleased to see that RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall is lobbying on behalf of locums. I can only hope things will look brighter soon.

  • The author of this article wished to remain anonymous

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