Locum GP exodus to salaried roles as COVID-19 pandemic hits income

As many as 1,000 GPs may have quit locum work to take up salaried positions since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because of concerns over financial security, sessional GP leaders believe.

Locums switching to salaried roles (Photo: Tridsanu Thophet/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Locums switching to salaried roles (Photo: Tridsanu Thophet/EyeEm/Getty Images)

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.

COVID-19 impact

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.

Salaried work

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.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

GP dilemma: What should I do if a parent sends their child with COVID-19 symptoms to school?

GP dilemma: What should I do if a parent sends their child with COVID-19 symptoms to school?

Medical Protection's Dr Clare Devlin offers advice on how GPs should respond to parents...

GPs risk missing out on vital COVID-19 risk assessments, BMA warns

GPs risk missing out on vital COVID-19 risk assessments, BMA warns

GPs risk missing out on COVID-19 risk assessments unless practices are guaranteed...

GPs call for partial suspension of network DES amid heavy workload

GPs call for partial suspension of network DES amid heavy workload

GPs leading primary care networks (PCNs) have called for the partial suspension of...

UK COVID-19 alert level raised as GPs prioritised for testing

UK COVID-19 alert level raised as GPs prioritised for testing

The government has raised the UK's COVID-19 alert level to four amid reports that...

UK on course for 50,000 COVID-19 cases a day by mid-October

UK on course for 50,000 COVID-19 cases a day by mid-October

The UK could see 50,000 COVID-19 cases per day by mid-October, with the epidemic...

Stricter short-term COVID-19 measures needed to avoid second national lockdown, BMA warns

Stricter short-term COVID-19 measures needed to avoid second national lockdown, BMA warns

COVID-19 infection rates will ‘soar’ and the NHS will ‘once again be crippled’ if...