Use of GP locums increased by a fifth last year amid the spiralling general practice workforce crisis, new data has suggested.
The figures, released by online locum website RLocums.com, showed that practices booked an average 110 hours of locum work via their website in 2014/15, compared with 92 hours in 2013/14 - a 19.6% increase.
Meanwhile, a survey of 5,500 GP users of the portal showed that an increasing number now choose to become ‘career locums’ - working full time in a sessional capacity rather than committing to work as a GP partner or salaried GP.
It also saw an rise in GPs supplementing their income via locum work, at an average income of £7,600 in 2014/15, up by a third from the previous year.
RLocums medical director and founder Dr Steve Leung, a GP in Brighton, said that the Government needed to take note of this trend or face a further worsening of the workforce crisis.
The RLocums survey showed the main reasons GPs abandoned commitments in practices were down to workload, including a GP partner who resigned after finding himself working ‘16 to 17-hour days’.
Surveyed members also pointed out negatives of working as a locum, including feeling excluded from CCG decision making and missing out on the opportunity to feel part of a team, however despite this, Dr Leung predicted this trends towards increased locum work to continue as working conditions for GPs in practices ‘deteriorate’.
He said: ‘If had to make a prediction for the next 12 months, I’d guess that working conditions for partners and to some extent salaried GPs will continue to deteriorate. This will continue to damage morale and the recruitment crisis will continue.’
The findings underline those from a Pulse survey of GP trainers last year, which put the number of registrars aspiring to become GP partners at 6%, while almost half wanted to go into locum work and 28% planning to go abroad.
GPs are finding it increasingly harder to recruit, with almost one in ten GP partner positions currently vacant, Pulse revealed earlier this year. Nine per cent of full-time equivalent GP positions were unfilled in April, compared with a 6% vacancy rate the previous year.
GPC workforce lead Dr Beth McCarron said the ‘undervaluing’ of GPs in the UK was ‘devastating’, but questioned who would wish to take on responsibility for a practice ‘in the current climate’.
She said: ‘I think it’s a huge shame what’s happened over the last few years in UK general practice.
‘Everyone knows continuity of care and stable practices are in the best interest of patients, but instead we are re seeing partners decide to reduce their partnership commitments… and young doctors shunning partnership and choosing to work as locums, leave general practice or go abroad.’
It comes as Pulse recently reported that overseas GP recruiters are able to use Government pledges on UK general practice, such as making routine appointments available seven days, against it in a bid to tempt doctors abroad.