GP locums are a valuable, yet often overlooked, part of the GP workforce. A recent survey by GP magazine found that a third of practices have at least one GP vacancy, and many have been unable to fill these posts for more than a year. This suggests demand for good GP locums is high.
However, the same poll, of over 700 GPs and practice managers, found that 11% had an unfilled locum vacancy at their practice. So how can you attract and build relationships with locums so they can help you through times of need?
Remember that locums are GPs
The starting point to success in all your dealings with GP locums is remembering that they are GPs, who have been trained to the same standard, have to undergo the same appraisal process and have the same professional expenses as practice-based GPs.
They will have the privilege and the responsibility of caring for patients in your practice and no patient or staff member should be given the impression that this is somehow a lesser service than seeing a practice-based GP.
Carefully agree terms and conditions - and stick to them
There is huge variability in how different practices and locums work, and having well thought-out standard terms and conditions will help everything run smoothly on the day, to everyone’s advantage. The NASGP produces an excellent locum booking form, based on their Code of Good Practice, to help practices do this.
Realise that finish times are critical for GP locums
Part of sticking to agreed terms is recognising the importance of finishing on time for locums. While all GPs like to finish on time, if you’re a locum travelling to another work commitment it is highly damaging to arrive late. Practices that have a reputation of not sticking to agreements, causing locums to overrun, are therefore unpopular with locums.
Negotiate fair fees which reflect the value of GPs
GP locums use their income to fund their professional fees, CPD, appraisal, annual leave, sick leave, study time and business costs to enable them to look after your patients to at least a standard equal to what you would expect from your patients’ regular GP.
In times of falling practice income, it is tempting to drive a ‘hard bargain’ with locum fees. And of course, the funding available to primary care affects us all and that does come into fee negotiations. But it must be realised that aggressively devaluing fellow professionals by undermining their pay, risks in turn devaluing the whole profession.
Recognise the right of all GPs to an NHS pension
Since the dissolution of PCTs, practices have become the conduits for handing on money earmarked for locum pensions.
It is not right to see the statutory requirement to hand on the 14% employers contribution as locums ‘just raising their fees’ and, as some reports suggest, seeking to avoid paying the pension contribution by insisting locums lower their rates. It is in the interests of all involved in primary care to behave with respect towards the pay and pension rights of our colleagues.
A friendly welcome and a cup of tea
On arriving at a new practice, if a locum is met with a smile and a member of practice staff who knows their name, they feel a wave of relief. If it is followed by a brief introduction to key practice staff on duty, a tour of the building and then being shown to their room, then they are in locum heaven.
These social niceties are more than just professional courtesies. They are markers that the practice understands the value of the job that locums do - seeing NHS patients. They show that the practice recognises that although locums are professionals with medical knowledge they are alien to the practice and its systems and need support to work effectively - and to find the loo.
Enable your GP locum to work effectively
Think about what this GP is going to need to operate efficiently in your practice. All GPs need constant access to practice-specific, up-to-date information and equipment to help us with our assessments, along with knowledge about how to refer and arrange further treatment.
Some brief preparation - including stocking the consulting room, having the computer system log in ready and providing a practice pack - can make all the difference between a dysfunctional locum session and an efficient session. This will ensure you have happy patients and a locum who will want to keep working with you in times of need.
The NASGP has useful resources, including a pre-arrival checklist, visit checklist and forthcoming practice pack.
The following articles on Medeconomics cover the issues in this article in more detail:
- Sourcing a suitable GP locum
- Agreeing terms and conditions with GP locums
- Preparing for a new locum GP
- Equipping a GP locum to do their job safely and effectively
- Making the most of your GP locum
- Preparing GP locums to make effective home visits
Dr 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.