Locum pay falls under the spotlight

Friday 9 October 2015

A recent report in the Times has brought the pay of locum doctors into the glare of media attention, as many criticised the fact that one contractor was set to be paid £468,056 this year alone.

At a time when cuts to NHS services and changes to junior doctors’ contracts are dominating the headlines, commentators have suggested that is inappropriate to be paying individual doctors so much.

One such critic was Katherine Murphy, the chief executive of the Patients Association, who told the Times: "Patients will find it very, very difficult to understand or to justify anybody earning that kind of salary.

"It doesn't make sense when people are waiting longer for operations and when it is difficult for people to get the treatment they deserve. If the money is there to pay locums these exorbitant fees, why aren't they recruiting and training?"

However, it should be noted that this unnamed general practice doctor is an outlier, and is in fact believed to be the highest-paid locum in the UK. Only eight locums were paid more than £250,000 last year. The top-earning locum for 2014 earned a total of £441,672, and worked an average of 77 hours per week.

A Department of Health spokesman defended the NHS’s decision to pay for locum staff, saying: "These figures are just a snapshot of one company's activity so does not give us the full picture of what is happening across the NHS.

"Having the right number of staff is vital so we have prioritised and invested in the frontline by employing 20,600 extra clinical staff since 2010 and committing to 5,000 more doctors in primary care by 2020.”

The spokesman also cited the high level of vacancies in the least popular specialisms, which include emergency medicine and general practice. Over the summer period, 85 per cent of locum shifts were used to cover unfilled staff vacancies, compared to 66 per cent six months ago.

The increased level of media attention around locums follows the publication of full annual locum earnings for the first time.

The Independent Association of Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) criticised the reporting of the figures in some areas of the media. Its executive director of Policy and External Affairs Simon McVicker said: “IPSE doesn’t recognise the characterisation of Locum doctors reported in the Times.”

He went on: “ Locum medical professionals are an essential part of the NHS. They provide a highly specialist service when it would not necessarily be appropriate to employ a full-time doctor, or fill in for employed colleagues at short notice. Excessive pay is not the norm.”

Mr McVicker also stressed that locums were essential for keeping the NHS running, and said that they should be valued for the important services they provide. He claimed that like their employed counterparts, they often work beyond the hours they are contracted for to ensure the best possible care for patients.

By Victoria McDonnell

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