The use of locum doctors in hospitals has increased by 62% over the last six years as hospitals struggle with staffing shortages and doctors increasingly favour flexible working, according to an analysis by Brookson, the leading provider of accountancy services to locum doctors.

The research by Brookson shows that the number of locums working in hospitals has risen from 9,878 in 2010 to 16,002 currently.

Brookson says that locums are an increasingly valuable resource for the NHS filling gaps in rotas at short term notice and providing cover for longer term absence due to maternity, sickness or study leave.

The research also shows that the number of self-employed doctors working as GPs has risen 4.7% over the past year, from 51,725 to 54,174. This rise reverses a long-term decline in the number of self-employed doctors working as GPs, which peaked at 60,500 in 2011.

With the number of GP partners continuing to fall, Brookson says that the increase in self-employment in GP practices is likely due to the growing use of locum GPs to fill vacancies.

Increase in number of locum doctors in hospitals, 2010-15

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According to Brookson, Doctors are increasingly hesitant about becoming partners in practices and so the locum route is growing in popularity alongside the rise of salaried GPs.

Martin Hesketh, Managing Director of Brookson, comments: “Doctors increasingly recognise that the financial benefits of working as a locum can outweigh the benefits of being on the payroll. This is particularly true a time when there are unfilled vacancies and the risk of being out of work is low. When you factor in the greater flexibility of deciding when and where to work, the appeal to many medics is clear.”

“The vast majority of locum doctors, whether in hospitals or GP practices, operate through their own companies. Operating a company is in many respects less hassle than being an employee and having to deal with the added paperwork and workplace politics.”

He adds: “The growing use of locum doctors has come in for some criticism but there are significant benefits, which are often overlooked. Locums usually spend less time on admin, which means they can spend more time on patient care. The varied nature of the role can also mean that they acquire a more diverse range of experience and offer a fresh perspective.”

Locum doctors earn over 40 per cent more than their salaried equivalents

According to data from Brookson, locum doctors are earning on average 44 per cent more than their salaried counterparts.

Brookson analysed pay rates for locums operating throughout the UK and found that median annual pay is £95,040 compared to £65,843 for salaried medical practitioners.

Martin Hesketh says: “The belief that temporary workers desperately want permanent jobs is still quite widespread but usually misplaced. For high earners, such as doctors, operating as a locum is a conscious lifestyle choice which is growing in popularity. Only a small minority of locums miss the benefits of being permanent employees. Employee benefits have been eroded over the years, and many locums regard higher pay and better work-life balance as more than compensating.”