How the NHS can better use GP locums?

Over the last few decades, the typical GP surgery has changed dramatically. From small-time partnerships, home visits and a doctor who managed your health from birth through to their retirement, the modern surgery is a business entity.

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One made up of a couple of partners and many more employees, an often revolving door of staff, and an increasing number of doctors, some figures suggest around a quarter, taking on GP locum jobs rather than choosing to be a permanent fixture.

How can locums be better utilised?

To get the very best from what are, essentially, temporary staff, involves a change in both mindset and attitude from NHS managers. Rather than considering locums as an overpriced, necessary evil, and part of the great NHS decline – much of which is based on urban myth or moral panic, they could acknowledge all the positives GP locums bring to the table, such as fresh eyes, open minds and a lot of knowledge. They also reduce waiting times, especially during busy periods such as winter or during regular GP holiday periods. These things, amongst others, also make it easier for GPs who wish to continue in the job to actually manage it.

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The locum life

Most locum GPs chose to become freelance, registering with specialist employment agencies such as, to claw back some work-life balance; for some it’s the only solution other than quit the profession entirely. And as demands on their time and appointment books continue to grow faster than funds, along with increasing paperwork and constant guidelines from the government on targets and practices, there’s a lot of appeal in a position with less responsibility and a definite finish time.

Much is made in certain quarters of the cost incurred by locums, again suggesting strongly that switching to this work style was, in many cases, a purely financial decision,, something strongly denied and even more strongly objected to by medical staff. Ironically, despite the interference, GP surgeries manage their own budgets and are therefore responsible for sourcing and funding locum staff employed.

It may be time for the people in the NHS responsible for liaising with GP surgeries need to consider the evidence of the importance of GP locums in modern medicine, and consider workable and productive ways forward.

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