This guide aims to untangle some of the complexity around what a Locum Doctor is, and answer the biggest questions related to what Locum Doctors in the UK actually earn.
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A Locum Doctor is essentially a freelancer – a Doctor who takes shifts on their terms, working whenever and wherever they choose to.
They typically find roles through agencies or NHS Trust banks, and will often have lots of experience in permanent positions which helps to ensure they’re always in demand – and can command the best rates.
As with any other Doctor, they have to take the same lengthy qualification route which involves five years of medical school, two years of rotation as a Junior Doctor, and in many cases several subsequent years in specialist areas.
But the reality of what you earn as a Locum Doctor is quite complex.
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What Is The Average Salary For A Locum Doctor?
Very broadly, the average annual salary for a Locum Doctor able to fill their entire calendar would be around £100,000.
However, this is a very rough approximation, and there are many factors at play.
This average salary assumes that the Locum Doctor in question is able to find shifts year-round that equate to a full-time working schedule.
It also assumes that the Locum Doctor is qualified to consultant level – which the majority of Locum Doctors are.
Associate Specialists or Junior Doctors working as Locums don’t have the same earning potential.
Locum Doctor rates also very regionally – with potentially higher rates on offer in London, for example.
What Are The Typical Hourly Rates For A Locum Doctor?
Foundation level Doctor rates (essentially, recently qualified Doctors) are normally set between £30 and £75 an hour, while Doctors at specialty trainee level can expect to earn between £45 and £85 an hour.
Meanwhile, Consultant Locums can earn around £100 an hour.
However, rates are typically negotiable between agencies and NHS trusts.
And with many NHS trusts facing staff shortages, this has meant that the actual rates paid to Locum Doctors have been much higher than those listed above.
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Do Locum Doctors Earn More Than Full-Time Doctors?
It’s very difficult to say whether Locum Doctors earn more than permanent Doctors.
A full-time Consultant with lots of experience can earn an annual salary of around £105,000 a year – which matches our average equivalent salary of a Locum Doctor.
However, it’s often suggested that Locum Doctors do earn more than their full-time counterparts.
Whatever conclusion is drawn, it’s important to factor in that Locum Doctors receive no sick pay, holiday pay or other valuable benefits.
Are Locum Doctor Rates As High As The Media Sometimes Suggests?
Now and again the media will run with a story about a Locum Doctor said to earn more than £500,000 a year or similar.
However, these stories distort the reality of Locum Doctor salaries and the value they offer to NHS Trusts.
Firstly, these examples are incredibly rare, and normally occur when an especially experienced Consultant is continuously employed by an NHS Trust through an agency for an extended period of time.
Of course, in most cases a Trust that employs a Locum Doctor for a lengthy period of time would realise the need for a full-time replacement and take action.
So, these instances are largely exceptional.
There have also been examples of agencies securing exceptionally high rates for Locum Doctors in instances where a hospital has been facing a staffing crisis.
But overall, this has been happening less and less in recent years because of the so-called agency cap that was introduced back in 2015.
This was a policy that restricted the amount that Locums could be paid for any given shift, in reaction to record agency spend in the NHS.
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Is It Worth Setting Up A Limited Business As A Locum Doctor?
Some Locum Doctors decide to set up and operate through a limited company.
In the right circumstances, this can allow you to take advantage of certain forms of tax relief.
However, the benefits come with some downsides.
You’ll need an accountant to manage your affairs, and there’s quite a bit of work and cost involved.
Also, if you operate through a limited company you cannot contribute to an NHS pension through any income you earn – a perk you would get through PAYE.
Furthermore, under rules known as ‘IR35’, any Locum Doctor working through a limited company that is deemed to have the hallmarks of an employee (i.e. doing a large amount of work with one employer) could face PAYE and National Insurance liabilities.
Whatever you decide, it’s vital that you do your research and weigh up your options carefully.
What Does The Future Hold For Locum Doctor Pay?
Locum Doctors are in high demand.
The pandemic has exacerbated frontline NHS shortages, and demand for experienced Doctors is enormous.
This is a situation that shows no sign of changing anytime soon.
For Locum Doctors with enough experience and a willingness to work in lots of different roles, there will be plenty of options – and excellent opportunities to boost your earnings.