Starting out as a GP locum

Written by: Dr Rodger Charlton
Published on: 2 Mar 2016

Being a GP locum can give you great flexibility over your working life. Dr Rodger Charlton offers some top tips for new locums.


Picture source: iStock


There are lots of reasons why GPs choose to become a locum, not least to earn income.

Many registrars, when they finish vocational training, do not rush straight into a practice but organise to do sessions in several practices. This is a great opportunity to see what sorts of practices are out there and possibly find one you might want to work in eventually. It also enables you to become known by local GPs and find out when vacancies that you might be interested in arise.

Working as a locum is also becoming increasingly popular as part of a portfolio career.

Being a locum gives you great flexibility and you are your own boss and decide what you wish to do.

The practicalities of being a locum

Flexibility is the key to working as a locum but you also need to be very organised. You will be the one who sorts out your own bookings and accounts for the HMRC and ensure provision for your future NHS Pension.

Similarly, you will not have the same support in relation to appraisal and revalidation that salaried GPs and partners have. For example, you will not have the help of a practice manager with an audit, significant event recording and conducting surveys of patients and colleagues.

Keep a folder

This seems obvious, but when you want a particular document you need to be able to find it quickly. When employing you for the first time, practices will want to see all your original certificates so you will need a paper and an electronic folder.

Make sure you have a brief CV and a comprehensive one with all the posts you have held. Other documents you will need are:

  • Your degree certificate
  • Medical defence membership details
  • A print out of your current registration from the GMC website
  • Confirmation of being on a performers list
  • Any diploma certificates eg MRCGP
  • Evidence of satisfactory annual appraisal and revalidation
  • Copies of references if they are available and an enhanced DBS check

Keep your folder up to date and also include anything from the past such as being on an Obstetrics list. Those working in England will need an NHS smart card to access GP computer systems. It’s a good idea to have a business card with all your contact details and you can create a web page with all of your details.

Should you use agencies?

There is a lot of locum work out there and you can pick and choose what you want. Some locums choose to work with a small number of practices where they are familiar with the local systems.

However, you may prefer someone to handle all the arrangements for you in which case you could enrol with an agency. It depends on how much you want to be your own boss. Don't forget you will still need to register as being self-employed.

What locum work is out there and will I get paid?

Anything from an afternoon to a short locum for several weeks such as a maternity locum. Practices may want you just to do a surgery, a surgery with visits, a whole day and if you are in remote and rural Scotland, then 24-hour cover.

What you get paid is negotiable between you and the practice and should relate to how busy you are and the provision that is made for your pension. You have many expenses, not least medical defence and paying an accountant.

Doctor’s bag

It is useful to have your own medical bag where you can put your hand easily on any equipment you need such as an otoscope or glucometer. There is nothing worse than trying to find something during a consultation and waste a lot of time getting the help of staff and searching through cupboards and rooms.

If you are doing on-call, a practice should provide an induction pack with useful contact numbers and practice protocols which it should for a locum anyway and any emergency drugs and equipment.


Being a locum can be a lonely life so perhaps form a support group with other locums to discuss cases, sometimes referred to as non-principal groups which may also include salaried doctors.

Go on courses if you can afford to and attend local lunchtime or evening clinical meetings. This will help you be part of the medical community or join a First5 group if you have just finished your MRCGP on a VTS.

Finally, if you have no local commitments there is nothing to stop you going further afield and travelling. Being a locum can be very satisfying work but it is good to have colleagues who are also locums that you can meet and talk with.

Dr Charlton is a GP in the West Midlands and professor of primary care education at the University of Nottingham.