Locums, like all healthcare professionals, face specific risks during this difficult time. Tragedy has befallen several GP surgery and hospital employees, including fit, healthy and comparatively young individuals, due to the implications of a heightened viral load while aiding infected patients.
This leaves locums, quite understandably, seeking assurances about their own protection during this time. Infection is more than just possible for a healthcare professional – it is highly likely, bordering on a certainty, especially due to well-documented PPE shortages throughout the country.
Thankfully, this does not mean that locums are destined to be forgotten. The fact is, if there was not a need for trained professionals to fill in the gaps in overworked surgeries, locums would not have existed in the first place. Surgeries are not forced to take on locums. There is simply a necessity for them, as the NHS continues to be under pressure – even before COVID-19 hit our shores.
Changes to the way that locums work are essential, as with every other line of work in the world. Locums can provide their valuable services, and keep themselves safe, without placing themselves at direct risk, however. As always during the age of Covid, it is a matter of embracing remote working.
Locum professionals do not need to be on the NHS frontline to provide essential and valuable services. Now that the R rate of Covid-19 has dropped, other critical healthcare matters can return to sharp focus. Patients that may have previously ignored symptoms that did not involve a persistent cough or fever can once again seek professional advice and consultation. In addition, locums can provide advice, support and referrals to patients managing long-term and consistent illnesses – complaints that date back to long before March of this year. These services can be provided remotely, keeping everybody safe.
In addition, locums can provide essential support on the administrative side of the NHS. For a start, making use of locum support will reduce expenditure of time during patient consultations. Many hands make for light work, and if GP surgeries are struggling with a backlog of patient appointments while covering staff shortages due to sickness and self-isolation, locums can help with this burden. Faster, more efficient results will improve a surgeries Quality and Outcomes Framework, or QOF – the measuring stick that all such establishments are judged by. Locums can even aid with patient audits, freeing up time of front-line staff to aid patients with day-to-day concerns.
Sick pay remains a sticking point during this period, as do and death in service benefits, to protect family members should the absolute worst happen. As present, while all full-time NHS staff are entitled to full sick pay should they be forced into self-isolation due to government guidelines, the same does not apply to locums.
Locums are expected to perform the same duties as permanent staff members, and take the same risks, without the associated benefits. As locums make up a minimum of 20% of all healthcare professionals in the UK, this is a troublesome equation.
The British Medical Association defines locums as essential members of the healthcare profession, but despite campaigning from the National Association of Sessional GPs, appropriate benefits are yet to be assigned. This really must change if locums are to feel safe and comfortable performing the duties expected – and required – of them.
Another ‘undefined’ area is that of clarity on Locum GPs with self employed status and may be (or may not be) covered by the Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) if they meet the criteria. You have to go through an earnings and suitability assessment, which can take some time. The likelihood now is that it may be too late, with regulations being a little more relaxed in the workplace.
Again, however, remote working can go some way to easing these concerns. Covid-19 is all around us, and there is no way to guarantee complete protection from an invisible virus. Not seeing patients face to face, however, will greatly minimise this risk. Locums can self-isolate by choice or necessity, and not risk placing their health – or that of patients – in further danger.
This will all require a collaborative approach. GP surgeries and hospitals will need to become proactive in taking on locum professionals, and in re-engaging with patients. Communication will be required to ensure that the general public do not become so consumed with anxiety over Coronavirus that they neglect their general health and other concerns. By encouraging patients to reach out, all parties can reach a satisfying compromise. Locums can still earn a living and use their essential skills and experience to earn a living, while patients enjoy the benefits of this expertise. By working together, we can all look forward to a brighter future when the Covid clouds eventually begin to clear.
AppLocum have plenty of locum roles available on our vacancies page.