New analysis has revealed that deprived clinical commissioning groups are more likely to rely heavily on locum GPs.
A BBC analysis of data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) found that in some parts of the country 18% of the GP workforce was made up of locums compared to the national average of 3.4%.
According to Government statistics, NHS Bradford City is the most deprived CCG in the country and it had one of the highest use of locums at 18%.
For comparison, NHS Harrogate in North Yorkshire, close to Bradford, is one of the most affluent CCGs and, over the same time frame, just 1% of its GPs were locums.
NHS England has previously acknowledged the issue with the increasing use of locum doctors and has set out a plan to recruit 5,000 more full time GPs by 2020.
Furthermore, NHS England plans to spend an extra £206 million on boosting GP recruitment, with bursaries worth £20,000 made available in areas that have found it hard to recruit new GPs.
However, Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said we shouldn’t be looking to get rid of locums completely.
She said: “One of the greatest attractions of general practice is the variety of ways in which GPs can work – and each has its own advantages.
“Working as a locum doctor might provide greater flexibility than working as a GP partner, while being a GP partner might offer greater security and leadership opportunities.
“It is important that GPs are free to try different career paths before deciding, which works best for them.
“However, whilst locums provide invaluable support for practices up and down the country, we shouldn’t be in a position whereby practices are relying on them as a long-term solution to recruitment problems.
She added her support for the NHS’s plans to bolster GP numbers, saying “we must do everything we can to recruit more GPs, retain existing ones, and make it easier for trained family doctors to return to practice”.
She said: “General practice makes 90% of NHS patient contacts and in doing so we keep our health service sustainable and our patients safe. It is essential that we do everything we can to encourage people to join our profession – whether as partnered, salaried or locum GPs.”
This was the first time the HSCIC collected data of this kind. However, data from CCGs in NHS England South (South East) was incomplete and therefore excluded from the analysis.