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Pay rates for locums are reportedly skyrocketing, with temporary jobs in ED offering over $4000 a day and weekly pay for GPs rising above $7000 in some cases.

While locum work has always been lucrative in remote areas, recruiters say they are now offering increased rates amid fears of a new wave of doctor shortages resulting from the limited number of IMGs coming into the country.

According to a listing posted online two weeks ago, Geraldton Hospital in WA’s mid-west region is offering a daily rate of $4240 for an emergency medicine consultant in return for signing a 10-day contract.

Listings for general practice jobs elsewhere in the state are also relatively high — with a GP practice in the town of Australind paying $7500 a week for a GP willing to start next Monday.

“Those day rates above $4000 are not typical, even now, but demand is extreme at the moment for locum positions and permanent roles,” says Martina Stanley, director of medical recruitment firm Alecto Australia.

Ms Stanley says the workforce challenges have been amplified by COVID-19 but responsibility also lies with the Federal Government’s decision to reduce the numbers of IMGs in the belief that there are sufficient numbers of Australian-trained doctors.

She also blames the rules introduced two years ago stating all IMGs must join an ACRRM or RACGP training program and attain fellowship — even if they are trained in comparator countries like Canada, US and the UK .

“IMGs are still 50% of the GP workforce, and we need them because often they will work where Australian-trained doctors won’t,” she says.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen it in over a decade in this job. The simple fact is we just don’t have the pool of doctors to recruit from.”

Read more: Labor pledges greater freedom for IMGs on the 10-year moratorium scheme

It’s a sentiment shared by Dr John Hall, a locum rural generalist currently working at St George in western Queensland and former president of the RDAA.

He stressed he hadn’t seen any general increase in locum rates for GPs — something that reflected the limited budgets of private GP practices and rural hospitals.

“But often these one-off outliers of escalated rates are a sign that health services have become desperate,” he said.

“In WA, you have to quarantine for seven days even as a health professional, and we know there have been major issues in remote Queensland and Tasmania as well.

“It has been a challenge for doctors trying to move around the country to take on these roles, which has actually been a real failure of COVID-19 policy.

Rural Health West CEO Tim Shackelton added that demand for locum GPs had increased over the past financial year amid lower availability, with the workforce agency receiving requests for 3999 days of cover or the equivalent of about 20 full-time doctors.

He also stressed pay inflation hadn’t been the same as in hospitals.

“It is unviable for small country general practices to pay significantly inflated rates to secure locum GPs,” Mr Shackleton told the Australian Financial Review last week. 

“On the occasions where general practices cannot secure locum cover, they may close for a short period of time or divert patients to nearby practices.”

Nevertheless, Dr Hall said there was a strong attraction to locum work, beyond just the earning potential.

“I love working as a rural procedural doctor, which is really different to office-based general practice,” he said.

“On top of that, you get to help out at a rural hospital, with all the comradeship there.”

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