Medical professionals often choose locum work, due to personal circumstances (such as family commitments), or because they want to gain experience in different surgeries or primary care settings to widen their knowledge of varying practice methods.

Sadly, locum positions have become harder to source in recent times, despite the healthcare crisis that has engulfed the world. Many locums have become vocal about the lack of availability of positions within the field, which inevitably has a knock-on effect on income.

Some locums state that they have not worked for around six weeks, or only a day or two here and there. Of course, they should be concerned about their income – who wouldn’t be? Questionably, what has caused this dearth in positions for qualified professionals to continue to assist where needed?

AppLocum, one of the most prestigious agencies providing GP locums, nursing staff, theatre and scrubs staff and many other excellent candidates for the profession in general, report that there has been a serious downturn of requirements for such highly trained individuals. AppLocum are also concerned about the future wellbeing and employment prospects for their candidates, and the surrounding economics and viability of earnings. Such a wealth of talented people should not be lost.

The good news is that there are still opportunities for locum healthcare professionals. The need for experienced, professional help has never gone away. To this end, AppLocum remains dedicated to aiding the very best individuals in this field to find work. All parties will find this easier by understand why locum positions appear to be in shorter supply, however.

Where have all the patients gone?

Potential patients needing medical advice are still there, but during this time, many have been too scared of contracting an illness, such as COVID-19, that they have avoided reporting their conditions and even ignored what might have been a potentially life-threatening illness. This has meant that surgeries and hospitals have not needed to take on locums if their existing staff could cope with this reduction in patients. Sad but true.

Thankfully, as per government communications, the UK has passed the peak of infections. This will offer some degree of reassurance to skittish patients that have otherwise avoided hospitals and GP surgeries. Over time, we are likely to see a steady return of patients seeking advice. It will not quite be business as usual. We are looking at embracing a, “new normal” in our everyday lives. Working together, however, patients can be steered back into giving non-Covid related health concerns the appropriate attention.

Do GP surgeries face financial penalties for hiring locums during COVID-19?

There are several financial implications that could have a negative budgetary effect on GP surgeries, and may well have made practice heads shy away from employing extra cover during this time.

NHS England advised practices not to furlough their staff and then add locums. However, the slightly grey area is when staff are self-isolating or are in the vulnerable category and can be off for weeks on end. How do you cover those staff positions if ‘non-furlough’ is recommended?

GPs themselves can claim sickness cover, but only after 2 weeks of continued absence. However, this relates only to sickness – self-isolation is not part of the NHS England plan, even if it is the right and ethical way to ensure patient coverage by employing a locum.

Ultimately, we are living in unprecedented times. The entire business world – which does include GP surgeries, regardless of whether we think of them in this light – has been forced to think on its feet and make tough decisions. As the landscape around us changes constantly, changes for good as well as for ill must be expected.

Are retired healthcare professionals returning to work impacting locum opportunities?

As COVID-19 has swept throughout the country, the healthcare profession has been understandably ravaged. Countless GPs and nurses have been forced into self-isolation due to exposure to the virus, while others have found themselves signed off sick for long periods due to ill health.

In excess of 15,000 retired NHS staff have returned to work since the outbreak of COVID-19, answering a call of duty. This is admirable, but it is creating fewer opportunities for locums to find employment. Even long-standing relationships may fall by the wayside as celebrated members of communities return to the NHS fold to a hero’s welcome.

In addition, we need to consider the pre-pandemic healthcare landscape in the UK. The dawn of NHS England saw the closure of one in six GP practices across the nation, while austerity also saw numerous local hospitals close their doors. This was not a decision GP surgeries would have taken lightly, it could have been for practical and economic reasons

Locums that were already forced into creative solutions to find work, such as commuting outside their hometowns, now have even fewer options due to travel restrictions and a finely-honed sense of social responsibility. This makes a shortage of local employment even more critical.

With an easing of the lockdown restrictions underway, and promises that the government are as dedicated to protecting livelihoods as well as lives, opportunities should once more begin to arise for locum healthcare professionals. It has been a challenging period for everybody connected with healthcare across the world, but for the first time in a while, we are starting to see a handful of rays of light emerging from the end of a lengthy, pandemic-shaped tunnel.

Are you a locum and finding it hard currently?

If you have had a successful career as a locum, or if you have only just started out, we would like to hear your comments on this situation. Some feedback we have already received is:

‘I never thought in a million years that I would struggle to get locum work after a long time in this profession’

‘I have a family to support and lack of work is affecting this’

‘I am losing faith in staying as a locum, and feel we have no support’

Should there be some more ‘noise’ around the situation that locums are currently facing?

Let us know your thoughts, we look forward to hearing from you.

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