Lack of support left locums at physical and financial risk in pandemic, say LMCs

Locum GPs have faced significant physical and financial risk because of a lack of support through the COVID-19 pandemic, LMCs have warned.

LMC delegates at the 2020 England conference of LMCs backed a motion highlighting the 'economic and professional impact COVID-19 has had on locum GPs - and demanding more support from NHS England.

Locums should be prioritised by NHS England for work ahead of doctors returning temporarily from retirement, supported to work safely, equipped and trained to work remotely and included in discussions about the primary care response and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, LMCs said.

GPs speaking at the online conference hit out at a 'ridiculous' situation in which the NHS was becoming overrun, while locum doctors were available but frozen out of work and left 'unable to pay their bills'.

Locum GP role

LMC representatives highlighted cases of locums being without work for several months during the pandemic, being left out of risk assessments and pushed to carry out high-risk face-to-face work in hot hubs.

Dr L-J Evans, from Dorset LMC, hit out at the failure to mention locums in the rollout of a £150m COVID-19 capacity fund for general practice.

GPonline revealed this week that the BMA's GP committee had confirmed the funding can be used to recruit locum doctors - but documentation launching the scheme mentions only salaried roles.

Dr Evans said: 'Rather than stating the money can be used for locum cover, they want to provide flexible pools of employed GPs - this would provide all the disadvantages of being a peripatetic GP without any of the advantages.'

Hot hubs

She said locums had been encouraged to 'undertake all the face-to-face clinics' during the first wave of the pandemic, had been overlooked when retired doctors were encouraged to return to support the health service.

Locum work is a 'positive choice for a large minority of GPs' - and the NHS must do more to 'fully utilise this workforce', she warned.

Dr Elfreida Power from Hertfordshire LMC said a poll of local GPs found 80% were doing less work than usual and a similar proportion were worried about their future career.

Kent GP Dr Sarah Westerbeek told the conference: 'Despite locum GPs being trained and available and eager to work, their shifts were cancelled at the last minute. They were prevented from finding more work due to a lack of remote working hardware, some were told to shield with no financial security, most were not risk assessed at all.

GP workforce

'The threat to locums' physical and financial health was becoming rapidly evident, meanwhile the government was telling retired GPs: "Your NHS needs you", despite the fact that an able workforce was available, but simply not being given the tools to work effectively.'

She hit out at the 'ridiculousness of a situation where the NHS was becoming overrun and locum doctors were unable to pay their bills and having to turn to charities'.

Mid Mersey GP Dr Jade Myers argued that the pandemic had shown the 'days of the locum GP are over' - warning that the lack of support for locums through the pandemic as they lost income and were denied equal death in service benefits showed that these doctors should be offered flexible partnership or salaried roles.

Gloucester GP Dr Jethro Hubbard argued that having locum GPs 'in the armoury' was important for general practice as a whole - providing partners with leverage in that they could switch to locum careers rather than be forced to accept unfavourable contract changes.

BMA sessional subcomittee chair Dr Ben Molyneux said: 'I don't think anyone can doubt this has been really tough time for sessionals. Locum GPs are an essential cog in the primary care wheel and will continue to be so.'

He said members of the committee met almost weekly with NHS England to 'bang the drum' for sessional doctors and had 'continued to emphasise value of locums' - and warned NHS leaders that if this part of the workforce was not supported, they could be lost to the NHS.

Read the motion in full:

That conference acknowledges the economic and professional impact COVID-19 has had on locum GPs and calls for NHS England and Improvement to:
(i) prioritise locums for work over those GPs returning to practice from retirement
(ii) enable locums to work safely
(iii) ensure locums are equipped and trained for new ways of working
(iv) ensure locums are included in future discussions over primary care's response to and recovery from the crisis.

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