Ten tips for starting out as a GP locum

21st September 2020 by Dr Richard Fieldhouse

Ten tips for starting out as a GP locum

Starting out as a GP locum, I soon came across all sorts of obvious hurdles and barriers, and plenty of not-so-obvious ones as well. I’d not been trained for the complexities of GP locum work. I had no idea or experience of practices being all so inexplicably varied and complex. At that time, us GP locums were not entitled to access the NHS pension scheme, and I had no idea how to manage all my bookings and tax.

I also realised how incredibly isolating it was working from practice to practice, sometimes not meeting another GP for days on end, and having absolutely no one to turn to for support.

This led me to quickly set up a local support group for my GP locum friends. It worked so well that I began to wonder if I could roll this model out nationally, which is why I set up the NASGP.

Join the NASGP on a three-month free trial today.

We have had a number of successes – winning the right for GP locums to get an NHS pension, winning prizes and setting up an independent booking system, LocumDeck.

But perhaps the biggest development nationally for all GP locums has been the Locum Chambers model: a holistic solution to GP locum isolation, breaking down all the barriers faced by so many of us. More on that later.

Covid-19 has of course been a massive challenge for everyone on the planet, and its direct impact on many GP locums was that, as practices went into lockdown, thousands of us had sessions cancelled, causing hardship and stress. There are some heartbreaking stories of how some of us have been treated, which we highlighted in an extensive survey (coming soon) undertaken early on in lockdown that showed so many of us were suffering from an almost complete lack of support.

In this preview of my talk for BMJ Live, I want to equip new GP locums with some tools that will have a positive impact on a GP career going forwards.

1. Explore the positive choice of GP locuming 

Being a locum GP is a positive career choice, even if it isn’t always an active choice.

We have all spent around three years training to be a GP, which has almost always prepared us for life as a GP in a single premises, with a team of people around us, supporting us, there all the time, with all sorts of training practice compliant, robust systems and processes in place to make sure we can do our job with the least effort. But what we are not taught during GP training is that almost none of this applies to working as a locum. Instead, we get exposure to many local practices, freedom, and flexibility.

2. Perfect your CV 

Your CV is often what does your sales and marketing, so make it look amazing, and you can not check spelling and grammar enough – it needs to be perfect. Proofread it as thoroughly as you can – and if possible, get a friend or colleague to proofread it for you.

Use NASGP’s CV builder and use your NHSmail address – it helps gives practices just that little bit of extra assurance.

Join the NASGP today for free for three months to browse all our membership resources.

3. Use a proper IT system

Some locums try to get by using a spreadsheet, but Excel and Google Sheets have none of the sophistication and resilience of proper locum IT systems. LocumDeck, the NASGP’s system, does everything from tracking payments to recording bookings. Decent audit trails and built-in robust Terms & Conditions are not luxuries, they are necessities.

4. Join a Chambers

During Covid, many of us have felt exceptionally isolated and completely outside any professional support networks, emphasising the professional vulnerability that’s always lurking around the corner as a GP locum. GP Locum Chambers offer the perfect solution for this.

Joining one of our NASGP Locum Chambers means you become part of a respected collective. Each Chambers is a local team of up to 15 GP locums who meet up regularly. It is a collaborative, virtual group who share a dedicated manager and clinical director while retaining independence.

We have chambers all over the UK, including London. And if we don’t have one near you, we’ll start one. Just get in touch to request it.

5. Refer to NASGP’s handbook

We published a comprehensive handbook, completely free to locums, that we update on a regular basis, and you can download from the ‘resources’ button on our website.

We also host a handbook on remote consulting by Dr Adam Abbs, Dr Abby Hyams and Dr Zubair Ahmed that we can’t recommend enough if you’re doing sessions at the moment.

6. Sign up to LocumDeck

To help locums get booked and manage their work, we rolled out our highly-sophisticated LocumDeck platform, giving practices powerful management features, balanced by giving locums full control over how they practise. Our locum management system avoids the need for locum agencies and apps.

Even if you don’t use LocumDeck as your GP IT system of choice, we recommend you sign up to it anyway – but you don’t have to use LocumDeck to be an NASGP member!

Join the NASGP today for free for three months to try LocumDeck.

7. Make the most of the NHS pension scheme

Back in 1995, GP locums were not entitled to access the NHS pension scheme, and I had no idea how to manage all my bookings and tax. After I set up NASGP, we successfully lobbied the government, and the BMA, to gain access for GP locums to the NHS pension scheme.

NASGP has plenty of resources about deciding whether or not to stay in the NHS pension scheme – we recommend you start here with this article by a specialist medical accountant.

8. Arrange income protection

Make sure your business (i.e. you) is insured if it can’t operate, so explore taking out special locum sick pay insurance and make sure you have taken advice about an income protection scheme too.

Critical illness insurance pays out a lump sum if you get a life-changing diagnosis. (You may have this already from your mortgage provider – be aware it’s something different to payment protection insurance (PPI)).

Income protection insurance pays you an income until retirement if you get injured or fall ill.

9. Get a good accountant

Unless you have the relevant financial skills, use a professional specialist medical accountant. Their fees are tax-deductible and they save you loads of hassle, help protect you from tax investigation and save you money. It’s a no-brainer. If you’re looking for tips, NASGP recommends our partners Honey Barrett.

10. Protect your livelihood in times of uncertainty by joining NASGP

Value yourself as a GP locum. We are, each of us, bona fide business entities in our own right, responsible for running our locum business entirely by ourselves. We are the chief executive, the entrepreneur, head of sales and marketing, head of finance and accounts, responsible for training. Everything.

That means we need to have proper business resilience, using robust business tools and expert advice. We consider NASGP membership a crucial aspect of that.

For more detail on any of this advice, join the NASGP on a three-month free trial today.

More advice for starting out as a GP locum

"Without the support of LocumDeck, I would have struggled to get it all organised. Ali and her team were extremely supportive and patient with me; they explained how to use it, made it flexible for my needs and allayed all fears regarding various invoicing issues. The ongoing support is also fantastic with educational webinars, NASGP Locum Chambers meetings and a quick response to any queries. I would recommend it to anyone starting out as a GP locum. It takes away the administrative stress and allows you to focus on clinical work."

Dr Himanka Rana, GP, Isle of Wight

See the full list of features within our NASGP membership plans


More advice for starting out as a GP locum

"Love LocumDeck. Invoice sent for this month. Super quick and easy once set-up. Form all calculated - lovely! "

Dr Kate Little, GP

See the full list of features within our NASGP membership plans