Locum GPs are being offered shifts at a rate of £1,000 per day or more by an agency.
Locum agency Primary Care Medical Chambers (PCM Chambers) sent an email to GPs last month in which it is seeking doctors interested in earning a day rate in excess of £1,000.
In an exclusive story, our sister publication Pulse reported that PCM Chambers’ email said the rates gave doctors an opportunity to ‘become one of the highest earning GPs in the country’.
The email said that it had secured ‘exclusive lucrative contracts’ with ‘a number of practices across various locations in the UK’. And that the rates on offer were the ‘highest locum rates in the country’.
It is unknown how much the agency charges the practices in addition to the locum fee.
The email goes on to say that as doctors may be required to work further afield than usual ‘contribution towards travel expense can be organised’.
Shifts available at the participating GP practices ranged from ad hoc sessions to three-month block bookings at the enhanced rate.
A spokesperson for PCM Chambers said a combination of significantly increased GP workload because of the pandemic backlog and the ongoing shortage of doctors had resulted in practices requiring ‘even more from an already overworked GP population’.
They said: ‘At the point PCM Chambers are contacted by such GP surgeries, our primary goal is to ensure we provide a GP to meet their specific requirements. Within this remit of guaranteeing patient demand is satisfied, increased rates are sometimes required.’
The spokesperson added: ‘GP rates will undoubtedly stabilise once the backlog has been cleared. Until then, if GPs are to be utilised to reduce this backlog of patient consultations and therefore the burden on the NHS, they will need to be paid for this.’
York GP partner Dr Abbie Brooks said that the rate is ‘scary’ and ‘not affordable’ but that ‘desperate’ practices will be forced to pay it because ‘locums are really hard to find at the minute’.
She said: ‘From a practice perspective, we find it really difficult to recruit locums and obviously there’s a shortage of GPs so I guess it’s a sign of the times and it’s a sellers’ market.
‘It doesn’t surprise me, I think it’s just a sign of how general practice is struggling and we can’t recruit permanent staff so I think some practices unfortunately will pay that, which is scary really.’
She also raised concerns that these costs are ‘just creating competition’ and therefore pushing rates ‘up and up’.
She added: ‘I do worry about the trend of paying locums more and more because there’s less and less of them – it’s not the answer. The crux of the issue is that general practice is not an attractive job anymore and people are leaving in their droves.’
Single-handed St Anne’s GP partner Russell Thorpe said that rates like these will perpetuate the recruitment crisis in general practice.
And he added that the £1,000 paid to the locum doctors is ‘probably the tip of the iceberg’, as the agency may be ‘charging some exorbitant fee’ so that the cost to the practice will be even more.
National Association of Sessional GPs (NASGP) chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse said he is ‘disheartened’ to hear the news because a ‘typical’ locum chambers ‘would never – and could never – set a rate in this manner’.
In ‘proper chambers’ individual locums are self-employed and set their own rates, he added.
Rates of £1,000 per day have also been reported in Northern Ireland this year.
Last month, the Irish News reported that the Northern Ireland Department of Health was offering GPs £1000 per day to cover two daily sessions on dates in July and August at a rural Co Tyrone practice facing a staffing crisis.