More than half of freelance doctors have struggled to find work in the last year, a survey suggests.

A poll of more than 500 locum GPs in England, who charge up to £850 a day, revealed that 55 per cent had found it difficult to get a shift in practices.

Eight in 10 complained that demand for their services had fallen — despite swathes of Brits being desperate to see their GP. 

Locum doctors blamed financial pressures on surgeries and the use of lesser-trained medics to fill their role.

Campaigners today warned that GPs have now become and ‘endangered species’ and hit out at practices for replacing doctors with ‘less qualified staff’.

A poll of more than 500 locum GPs in England, who charge up to £850 a day, revealed that 55 per cent had found it difficult to get a shift in practices

A poll of more than 500 locum GPs in England, who charge up to £850 a day, revealed that 55 per cent had found it difficult to get a shift in practices

GP Online quizzed 533 locum family doctors in England, with 14 per cent reporting demand for their services remained static. Only 5 per cent said it had increased.

Nearly nine in 10 believed employment opportunities for locum GPs in their area had dropped off.

More than half blamed the downturn on practices struggling to afford locums. Eight in 10 said surgeries were turning to other staff roles and therefore reducing their use of locums. 

Three in 10 (29 per cent) blamed increased competition from other locum GPs.

One anonymous GP who responded to the poll said practices have been ‘pushed’ to employ other types of staff, such as pharmacists, physician associates (PAs) and physiotherapists, through the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS). 

The ARRS scheme was introduced in 2019 and lets primary care networks, groups of GP surgeries operating in the same area, hire for other roles such as podiatrists and occupational therapists and claim reimbursement for their salaries. 

It is supposed to boost patient access but some experts have called for the cash to instead be allocated to employ locum GPs full-time. 

There have been concerns in particular over the use of PAs to fill GP workforce gaps. 

PAs work under the supervision of a doctor and require two years of postgraduate study but no formal medical training.

Another GP who responded to the survey complained that they used to have ‘four or five’ practices requesting their work as soon as they posted availability but work now comes in ‘dribs and drabs’, meaning they are booked less and have to travel further.

One family doctor said they are now applying for work outside of the NHS over fears they can’t keep up with their mortgage and other bills. 

Dennis Reed, head of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over-60s, told MailOnline: ‘Only a couple of years ago it was lucrative to be a locum GP as there were so many gaps to be filled. 

‘Now practices are reducing the number of GPs and replacing doctors with physician associates and other less qualified staff. 

‘A sorry state of affairs with the GP becoming an endangered species.’

Just four in 10 people in England (42.6 per cent) saw their GP on the same day they contacted their practice in November, latest NHS data shows.

A fifth (18.8 per cent) waited two to seven days, while 20.9 per cent were forced to wait eight to 21 days. One in 20 had to wait more than a month.

In October, agencies which coordinate with sites across the country and connect them with locums asked doctors to consider reducing their expected hourly rate to increase their chance of getting hired. 

Average locum day rates in England ranged from £600 to £850 in 2023, a two per cent rise in a year, according to data complied by Management in Practice.

In previous years, desperate practices have offered locums up to £1,000 a day to fill staffing shortages. 

One GP told Pulse that month that locum work has ‘literally disappeared overnight’ and that they were forced to contact a charity for financial assistance. 

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