Locum doctors play an important role in health and social care. They provide vital extra capacity in up to half of all GP surgeries at a time of growing workload pressure for permanent staff1. Working as a locum is more widespread than you might think – some estimates suggest that as many as one in five doctors in the UK currently work in a locum capacity2
At a time when the NHS is struggling to fill more than 90,000 vacancies and clear a backlog of close to six million patients awaiting treatment3, it’s fair to say that moving to a role as a locum doctor is a viable option for any doctor seeking greater flexibility, or simply wishing to help out where demand is greatest.
However, if you are thinking about becoming a locum doctor – whether in GP surgeries, hospitals or private practice – there is a lot to consider before making the move.
What is a locum doctor? Locum definition
In the UK, the term locum doctor refers to a doctor who temporarily fills a role in a hospital, GP practice or clinic. That could mean, for example, working in a GP surgery for a single day, or providing maternity cover for several months.
The vast majority of locums work in the NHS, in GP surgeries or hospitals, though some locum doctors are also employed by private practices and even non-medical businesses that require regular easy access to medical skills.4
How much does a locum GP earn?
There is no single answer here, as locum doctor hourly rates vary depending on their level of experience, specialist skills and seniority.
However, the ability to earn better pay is one of the main factors that doctors cite as a benefit of working as a locum, so there is clearly a balance to strike. For example, a locum doctor’s pay can be over £100,000 per year – in line with the pay of a salaried consultant – but that may mean putting up with anti-social working hours when rates are often at their highest.5
How do locum doctors find work?
Generally, there are two ways to find work as a locum doctor. The first is via NHS ‘staff banks’ – essentially pools of doctors registered to NHS Trusts, which are the first port of call if a care setting managed by that Trust requires additional temporary staff.6
The second option is to find work via privately run locum agencies that specialise in filling vacant shifts with locum doctors. These agencies will usually only be asked to fill vacancies if a staff bank fails to do so – which may mean they tend to offer more ad hoc roles with unsociable hours.6
That said, a locum agency may offer more support, essentially operating as a recruitment consultant by guiding you through the process of finding the right locum roles based on their knowledge of which hospitals will have shifts, who pays the most, and where the work might be easier or more difficult.6
How are locum doctors taxed?
How you are taxed as a locum doctor will depend on how you are paid. For instance, if you work through an agency you will effectively be treated as an employee – either by the Trust employing you or the agency. In this scenario, you will be taxed at source in the normal way.
However, you may decide to set up a limited company in order to invoice and take payment for your locum work, then pay yourself a salary or take money from the business in the form of dividends. This route may slightly reduce tax bills, but you will almost certainly need an accountant to help you work through the complexities.7
What are the advantages of working as a locum doctor?
There are plenty of upsides to life as a locum doctor, including: 4
- Flexibility: Working as a locum can give you greater control over when you work – e.g. setting your own hours and avoiding weekend work completely if you want to.
- Location: As a locum, you will essentially be able to work wherever there is demand – and that could be anywhere in the country.
- Pay: As previously noted, locum work gives the opportunity to pair greater flexibility and freedom with higher earnings – in some cases, locum earnings can be as much as three times the pay in a similar training role.
- Freedom: The fact that you will not be tied into a long-term role in one location, means you may have more time to build the work/life balance that suits you, such as finding time for travel and hobbies.
- Experience: Working as a locum also provides the opportunity to pick up varied experience, or to focus on gaining experience in a specialism of your choice, which could then form part of your core development portfolio.
What are the disadvantages of working as a locum doctor?
Equally, however, there are some potential downsides that it’s worth being aware of: 8
- No guaranteed income: Your income will be determined by your success in securing locum work, while if you fall ill, you will only receive statutory sick pay.
- Isolation: Working in temporary positions and shifting from role-to-role over time may make it hard to build a supportive network of colleagues – and, along with an absence of patient continuity, this can result in feelings of isolation.
- Lack of training: As a locum, you may not get to work with clinical supervisors or have any dedicated teaching time. You may have to rely on impromptu teaching and advice from your seniors and consultants instead.
Locum insurance for doctors: do you need it?
The insurance you need will depend on the setting you work in as a locum doctor and, to an extent, your attitude to risk.
You might need specialist medical practice insurance to protect against professional errors and omissions or help defend claims made against you as a result of your work as a locum doctor.
On top of that, given the lack of sick pay that is a feature of locum work, you may want to consider covers such as personal accident and income protection insurance, which can help replace lost earnings if you are unable to work due to illness or injury.
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