As a young teenager, I remember checking in to my GP surgery to discuss a sore throat and being told that I was due to be seen by the locum GP. ‘Oh’, I thought to myself, ‘I’m getting a doctor who can’t get a job.’ Imagine my surprise then, to find myself jobless at the end of GP training in August and selling my wares to the highest bidder, or any practice which promises cake.
Locumming, so I have heard, used to be the working equivalent of the sickly child at school who never got picked either for sports teams or up at the end of the day by their parents. Work was hard to come by, and there was a silent consensus that proper general practice was within partnerships or salaried positions.
Now, it seems more and more GPs are choosing to work on a sessional basis. The pros and cons of being a locum are generally obvious – the work is more flexible, varied and less bureaucratic but misses out on continuity, stability and involvement with running a practice.
Personally, I have found the last few months as a new locum GP fascinating. I’ve been able to work in single-handed surgeries, huge multi-site mega-practices and even Newton Abbot. Each practice comes with its own way of running routine and duty services, prescriptions, phone-calls, visits and everything else. Whilst this takes a little getting used to, it has been hugely beneficial to experience different ways of working and seeing what works and what doesn’t. I often wonder how easy it must be to become ‘stuck’ in a way of working as a practice and whether locums have a role to play in feeding back about different systems. What with seven-day GP services and the increased role of practice co-operation and federation, perhaps sessional GPs can bring something to the table.
In Devon locum GPs are fortunate that there is a lot of work at the moment, and therefore some continuity is possible. This is crucial for continued development and job satisfaction, and perhaps the main drawback to locum work I have found so far is missing out on longer-term patient management. I’ve worked at 13 separate surgeries in the last few months, and all have been supportive and welcoming. I had heard horror stories of turning up to practices to be presented with a morning’s 38 patient surgery and some roof-tiling to replace but I’m pleased to say that so far every practice has been a pleasure to work for. I miss getting to know a team well, but enjoy meeting new GPs and practice staff and putting faces to names. And there are some phenomenal bakers out there.
Dr Danny Chapman is a locum GP in east and south Devon