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Response to Plymouth Herald



The Independent Health Professionals Association is a Trade Association representing dependently contracting health professionals sometimes referred to as locum tenens.



We note, with dismay, your article of 15th September regarding the plight of Junior Doctors in Derriford. Sadly, this situation is far from unique or isolated and is being echoed at Trusts up and down the country. Conditions like these cause a dramatic crisis of recruitment and retention and increased staff sickness which exacerbates the problem and, quite understandably, drives up both the demand for staff to take on additional ‘locum’ shifts and increases the value staff across all hospitals will attach to their precious few days of rest (which many give up when locuming). These supply and demand market forces result in increased locum rates, as those taking extra shifts struggle with such conditions as much as permanent staff.

The present situation is a result of long standing lack of investment in our health service with failure to train enough doctors, nurses, and AHPs creating a vicious cycle which drives those already working to leave plus a number of recent factors affecting the locum market which we are very concerned are missing from the narrative here and being reported as if they were a separate story – when in reality this is a matter of cause and effect with the two problems being inextricably linked.

In the example noted, as in many others, you will have noticed an attempt was made to find temporary staff to cover this rota gap which failed.

There are essentially three reasons why finding temporary cover is failing;

The first is that hospitals are now so underfunded and understaffed that working conditions are often atrocious. This is clearly captured in your article – any independent doctor is voluntarily working under the same conditions and, as you can imagine, this makes it harder to find staff willing to do this.

The second factor is that Jeremy Hunt’s rate caps on ‘Agency’ staff represent a spectacular failure to grasp basic market economics, which should be bread and butter for a party with a free market mantra like the Conservatives. Current locum rates are just a symptom – the actual disease is the fact that our substantive colleagues are underpaid, undervalued, and overstretched thanks to Jeremy Hunt’s New Contract spreading an already too slim workforce over even more hours exacerbated by the fact we’ve been undertraining doctors for decades. Many locum shifts are filled by these same doctors taking on additional hours - of course the rates will be high. If we attempt to cap pay below what the free market rates dictate we will not fill shifts as nobody is going to take them.

The third, most recent, and worst of the exacerbating factors relates to an unlawful blanketing of locum health professionals under a hitherto obscure piece of tax legislation referred to as IR35 – which is stopping locums claiming expenses for hotel bills and flights to cover shifts across the country against tax. This often runs to many thousands and even tens of thousands of pounds. Additionally, if the locums took these shifts they would additionally reduce their take home pay by up to 50%. Despite this the actual tax rules themselves have not changed – only the responsibility for who conducts the assessment has been shifted to the Trusts.

This blanketing was initially instigated following a demand from NHSI that all locum doctors should be taxed as employees -ignoring their, often colossal, indemnity insurance, travel and temporary accommodation expenses and not affording them holiday pay, sick pay, maternity pay, protection from unfair dismissal, pensions or any of the other statutorily protected benefits that actual employees enjoy. NHSI advocated a blanket approach which is well recognised to be unlawful in what is, very clear case law. Our organisation, specifically our doctors advocacy group the Locum Doctors Union, commenced the preaction protocol of judicial review against NHS Improvement and forced them to concede the unlawfulness resulting in updated guidance to trusts which told them they had to conduct individual assessments but did not teach them how to do this lawfully.

Trusts are finding this a huge burden administratively and are grappling with incorrect advice issuing from various government departments.  We have taken action to help the Trusts with this task last week by issuing them with detailed guidance, written by our barrister Michael Paulin, on how to correctly comply with their legal duties. If they follow this we are confident most locums would be found to be outside IR35 and Trusts would pay less money overall.

The fact remains that, at 50% below a free market rate due to increased tax, it is extremely difficult for trusts to fill shifts and as a result of this, Jeremy Hunt’s New Contract and Rate Caps rates are being driven up by government policy whilst contemporaneous attempts are being made to prevent trusts paying them. It is almost as if the government wants bad headlines to manufacture consent for the privatisation of the health service.

Lastly the IHPA would like to state that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our substantive colleagues and will continue to advocate for better pay and working conditions for them as being the only definitive way to address the problems within the system.  More money must be put into training new doctors and NHS careers must be made attractive and financially competitive or we will continue to haemorrhage our best and brightest to places that do value and pay their medics properly.


I do hope this helps add some context to the story. Should you wish to run a piece on the guidance itself please get in touch.

Yours faithfully,