National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse told GPonline that there were now ‘quite a lot less locums in the system’ compared to March, with GPs opting for ‘more substantive posts’.
Dr Fieldhouse - also clinical director of a locum chambers organisation - said newly-qualified GPs in particular had decided to make the switch to salaried roles as they look to keep on top of student debt.
However, he added that that bookings for locums in the past two weeks had started to pick up again following a five-month lull, with some GPs in permanent roles now taking annual leave.
In May GPonline reported that over half of locums had experienced a significant fall in their income during the pandemic.
Locum work dropped significantly as numbers of consultations dropped at the start of lockdown, with practices switching to total triage, carrying out most consultations by telephone - and with permanent staff cancelling annual leave. Locum GPs were also forced to turn down work due to inadequate sick pay and death-in-service guarantees.
Dr Fieldhouse said: ‘We’ve had lots of reports of locums getting salaried jobs because they just needed security. There’s an awful lot of salaried jobs out there, and a lot have now been taken up.
‘NASGP members are writing to us to say: 'Please, we don’t need our membership anymore because we are salaried". We’ve never really had that before, it’s usually the other way.'
Dr Fieldhouse suggested that nationally the number of locums shifting to salaried roles 'would be around the 1,000 mark'. Some estimates suggest there are around 17,000 headcount locum GPs in the UK - meaning the shift could represent around 6% of the total - although it could be significantly higher in full-time equivalent terms.
Reports of a drop in locum numbers reflect a recent GPonline opinion poll which found that salaried roles are now the most attractive career option for GPs. 42% of 585 GPs said this was their preferred option, compared to 38% who said locum roles were more appealing - with partnerships the least favoured option.
The findings represent a significant shift over the past 12 months - with more than half of respondents to an identical GPonline survey last year saying that locum roles were the best option.
Dr Fieldhouse said: ‘As you get older, you get more financial stability - you have savings you can fall back on. But the younger you are you have less savings and you’re at more of a knife edge situation - and I think it’s the knife-edge situation that has led to people grabbing themselves a salaried job.'
The NASGP chair added that work was starting to come in for those remaining in locum positions. He said: ‘In the last 14-16 days on our booking system it’s gone right back up again, so it’s definitely started to come back in, which is brilliant. I thirnk locums have been trying as much as possible to get work where they can.’
The shift to salaried roles among locum GPs could be pushed further by NHS England. NHS bosses this week urged local commissioners to work with primary care networks to 'create highly flexible GP salaried roles for those who previously thought that only a career as a locum could offer them the flexibility they need'.
The BMA has called for locum GPs to be given adequate death-in-service benefits before a potential second coronavirus peak.