The unexpected absence of a doctor or a key member of staff can be inconvenient or it can be disastrous and it’s your choice as to which it is.
Unexpected absence inevitably creates extra workload for others at the practice, who may struggle to balance their concern for their ailing colleague with possible resentment at the extra hours being heaped upon them.
Clearly untenable in the long-term, there are 3 potential solutions to the ‘overwork’ problem and they all involve locums.
1. The practice pays for the locum
2. The unwell doctor pays for the locum
3. The locum is funded by a locum insurance policy
Let’s briefly explore options 1 and 2.
Several GP partners have told me that they’ve built up a fund which they would dip into. Dip??! How big is this fund? Take a moment to think what would happen if Drs A, B and C have built up this fund over 20 years (not untypical, from the discussions I have had). Dr A is off work for a few months and the fund is wiped out. Then what? Back to square one and Dr B and C have to hope it will be another 20 years before they’re off ill – or before Dr A suffers a relapse.
Maybe placing this burden on the unwell doctor is the answer? If his drawings continue, he might be able to fund it. Locums are costing around £250 a session and I bet he’d get back to work sharpish if he has to pay out around £2000 a week for every week he’s off. Coming back to work because you have no choice, financially, cannot be conducive to a supported recovery.
So let’s turn to option 3 and look at a claim made by one of our practices. Last April, one of the partners, in her 40s, was diagnosed with cancer. She has been off for the past 9 months and was planning to return a week or two ago. Unfortunately, she isn’t up to it and is now hoping to return, on a phased basis, in 2 months’ time.
She is under no pressure –either from her colleagues or from the locum insurance underwriters – to return sooner.
Nearly £60,000 has been paid to the practice to date and payments will continue until she returns and, at a lower level, during the period of phased return.
Payments from the locum insurance have done 2 things:
- made sure the effects of the doctor’s absence are financially neutral and,
- let the GP partner return in her own time.
Neither would have been the case if the locum costs had been funded by the practice of by the doctor herself.
So how does this work if you’re one of those practices which ‘doesn’t use locums’? Let me suggest that, for long-term illness such as that outlined above, this stance just doesn’t stack up. I have spoken to doctors who tell me they can’t think straight because they’ve been working 15 hour days to cover for absent colleagues ‘because we didn’t have locum insurance’. That doesn’t sound fair to me! It’s not fair on the doctor and it’s not fair on the patients who might prefer a doctor who can ‘think straight’.
However, even if your practice is one of the ‘don’t use locums’ variety, our policy will still pay out. You get the money, you choose what to do with it. And when working 15 hour days starts to look less than appealing, you’ll have the money sitting there, ready to meet the cost of a locum.
The inconvenience of bringing in locums vs the disaster of having to pay for them. I know which I’d prefer.
Lynda Cox. Practice Cover. Feb 2015
The opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author on behalf of Practice Cover Limited and they do not constitute individual advice. Practice Cover is a trading name of Practice Cover Limited and is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority