Locum insurance for GP surgeries: new pressures, new policies


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The chairperson of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Kamila Hawthorne MBE, recently warned that a significant number of surgeries were at risk of closure due to staff shortages, calling the findings “really scary”. In a survey of 2,600 GPs[i], 26.7% said their practice might have to shut down, with 89.2% citing ‘unmanageable workload and rising demand’.

A total of 67% reported GPs leaving, and 63% said there was a shortage of salaried GPs, making finding replacements incredibly difficult.

Set against that backdrop, it’s no surprise to learn there has been a significant upsurge in demand for locums – and with it a hike in hiring costs. Average GP locum day rates currently range from £600 to as much as £900 depending on the region, according to GP trade publication Pulse Intelligence[ii].

It used to be the case that locums in London commanded the highest fee. But now, simple laws of supply and demand have seen that pendulum swing. Those areas with the most significant scarcity are now realising the highest daily rate – and right now, Devon and Cornwall are top of the leader board.

Additional pressures on surgeries

These increasing locum costs are placing extra pressure on already tight budgets that are also impacted by inflation and the rising cost of essentials such as energy, equipment and medical supplies.

Locum insurance is designed to cover the cost incurred when a GP needs to be replaced with a locum doctor. Many policies allow practices to cover other members of staff, too, for example nurse practitioners, practice managers, dispensers, healthcare assistants and care navigators. 

Whatever level of cover a practice chooses to get, over the past couple of years many will have seen their premiums rise to keep up with locum-fee hikes. So it’s crucial that GP practices remember to look carefully at their cover on a regular basis to ensure it’s adequate. Every surgery is different and circumstances can change on a dime, so it’s important to ensure policies and needs tally.

Considering appropriate policies

Individual practices cope with staff absences differently. Most brokers expect to have a conversation about the policy and to tailor it to suit specific needs. It could be that a particular surgery would rather have cover from the first day of absence, for example, or the remaining staff may feel they can cope for a week or two, in which case a deferment period might be appropriate.

Typically, the higher the excess or the greater the deferment period is, the cheaper the premium is likely to be, so it’s always wise to think about how locum insurance fits within contingency plans and budgets.

Causes of absence need to be considered too. Will the policy cover full stress, anxiety and depression? Phased returns to work? Pregnancy-related illnesses?

What the future holds

The GP-locum issue isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. The Health Foundation[iii] reported only last month that ‘unsustainable pressures’ are causing many NHS family practitioners to consider early retirement.

“It is alarming, but not at all surprising, that GPs in the UK are among the most stressed and overstretched of the nations examined,” said Professor Kamila Hawthorne.

The fall in the number of full-time GPs in recent years lies behind many of the problems the survey identified, she said. “It is very worrying that more qualified GPs are leaving the profession than entering it. As the foundation of the NHS, we are struggling,” she added.

It’s clear that ensuring locum premiums are sufficient to cope with any eventualities should be at the top of the agenda for surgeries all over the UK.

Partnering with a specialist

The Howden team of insurance experts can offer a variety of solutions for GPs, for general and private practices.

As a true specialist, and having worked with GPs for many years, we understand the risks people in the medical profession face. With this knowledge, we are able to offer insurance policies to meet specific needs, ensuring that practices are better able to navigate these incredibly challenging times.