Most GP practices will, at one time or another, require locum cover on a temporary or ongoing basis. This need may arise at a time of adversity for a practice (for example, when a partner is ill), or simply to cover planned leave or to improve the work/life balance of existing, over-burdened staff.
Whatever the circumstances, locum cover is a cost that impacts both on patient experience and on practice profits.
Understandably, you will be hoping to find a locum who slots seamlessly into the practice, providing excellent patient care, without breaking the bank.
The good news is that with some thought and guidance, you can find high quality GPs who choose to work as locums. If properly enabled, these doctors can provide effective care for your patients and add real value to your practice.
Practices should consider the following points:
- Locums are GPs: this may sound like stating the obvious but there has been a culture of seeing freelance GPs as ‘just’ locums, who are somehow lower quality than colleagues based in one practice. I’m sure you have heard a receptionist tell a patient: ‘I’m afraid we don’t have any of our GPs here today, just a locum.’
The first step in getting the best out of a locum is remembering they are qualified, professional GPs, who have been trained to the same standard as other doctors and have to undergo the same appraisal process as practice-based GPs.
Many are experienced and have worked in a variety of practices; they simply choose to work freelance, on a sessional basis. Most locum GPs are motivated, diligent professionals who want to do a good job.
No patient or member of staff should be given the impression locum GPs provide a less effective service than their practice-based peers; it undermines the locum and worries patients, who opt to book a second appointment with their ‘regular doctor’, duplicating workload.
If you are going to give a locum the privilege and responsibility of caring for your patients, make it clear you have confidence in their knowledge and skills.
- Equip locums with the tools to do their job: No GP can sit alone in a consulting room, armed only with medical knowledge, and expect to be effective for their patients.
All doctors need access to appropriate equipment, up-to-date information and details of referral processes in order to assess patients properly and enable them to receive further treatment.
When you book a locum GP, you should be gaining a competent GP armed with full medical training, but you cannot assume they will understand the workings of your individual practice.
Many locums will work in up to 40 different practices a year, often based in different consulting rooms, even when employed regularly by a particular practice. In the course of a year, they could be working in around 100 different consulting rooms.
They will therefore require an appropriate induction process in order to find their way around rooms, computers and other equipment. It is in your practice’s own interests to ensure locum GPs are equipped to work safely and effectively.
We will expand on these themes over the coming weeks, but if you do nothing other than consider the two points made in this article, you are more than halfway to making the most of a GP locum.
A well-informed, well-supported GP locum should fit into your practice, satisfy patients and be keen to work for you again, improving continuity of care.
- Sara Chambers is a sessional GP in West Sussex, appraisal lead partner for Pallant Medical Chambers and the quality lead for the National Association of Sessional GPs. www.nasgp.org.uk