Northern Ireland

Locum GPs charging up to £500 for day's work due to GP shortage

Dr Michael McKenna, a west Belfast GP
Dr Michael McKenna, a west Belfast GP

LOCUM GPs in Northern Ireland are charging as much as £500 for a day's work, a leading medic has revealed.

The increase comes amid a massive GP shortage which has led to the closure of some rural surgeries and pressures on senior staff.

City surgeries have also been affected by retirements and 'spiralling workloads', with practice managers hiring stand-in doctors to tackle patient backlogs.

Daily locum rates in Belfast have been set at an average of around £360 for the past three years.

However, one high-profile west Belfast GP revealed he had received a £500 quote in the past fortnight - which he refused.

Dr Michael McKenna said some individuals are also naming their price and choosing to cover only part of a rota.

Struggling practices in country areas, such as parts of Co Fermanagh, historically paid higher fees to temporary doctors to plug rota gaps.

"Market forces have created this situation where it is much more lucrative to work as a part-time locum," Dr McKenna told The Irish News.

"The majority of locums are reasonable but some people are taking advantage where they can charge more and work less.

"As part of my contract, l will work longer hours, do house calls and paperwork etc but some locums are now saying they will not do certain things such as house calls. Their work environment will be much easier.

"I never went into medicine to make money but there are a number of people who are finding it easier to work less and get better paid."

Unlike doctors employed by health trusts, GPs are independent contractors and negotiate pay rates with locums on an individual basis.

While set fees are normally agreed for stand-in doctors providing long-term cover for maternity leave or sickness absence, charges vary for those providing emergency GP cover.

Attempts to agree a set rate across the NHS have failed, with locum GPs in London earning £800 for a day's work.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the biggest doctors' union in the north, had no-one available for interview in relation to the concerns raised by Dr McKenna.

Earlier this year, BMA chiefs warned that many GP practices in both city and country areas were 'on the brink of collapse' due to staff shortages and increased demand.

The union has threatened a slew of measures, including half-day surgery closures, in the absence of increased funding from Stormont.