Gastroenterologists are being offered record locum rates to fill positions in rural and regional hospitals, as post-pandemic staff shortages bite around the country.
While locum work has always been lucrative in the most remote areas, recruiters say they are now offering increased rates even in inner regional centres to meet the growing challenge of finding specialist cover.
One recruitment agency is currently advertising rates of $2,000 per day for gastroenterology consultants available to work in Cairns or Bundaberg in QLD and Latrobe in Tasmania. Another has a rate of $2500 per day plus travel and accommodation advertised for a gastroenterologist able to work for a week in the Northern Rivers region of NSW.
Other specialties are attracting even more money, with rates for anaesthetists reaching $4000 per day in regional Victoria and emergency consultants commanding day rates of $3500 and above in rural WA and NSW.
Rural Doctors Association of Australia CEO Peta Rutherford says locum remuneration is now the highest she has ever seen – even compared to the peak COVID-19 waves in 2020 and 2021.
“I’ve seen up to $4,500 for some jobs, particularly rural obstetrics,” she says.
“Rates about $3000 are fairly standard at the moment but if they’re desperate they’ll bump it up even higher to get someone.”
It comes as the Australasian College of Dermatologists raises the alarm over the specialists, particularly outside the major cities.
With just 550 qualified dermatologists currently practising in Australia, and over 4% of the population suffering a long term skin condition, it says the current quota of 100 trainees is also inadequate to meet projected demand.
Additionally, the majority of dermatologists worked in private practice, and while many hold hospital appointments, these tended to be small FTE roles due to the scarcity of funding for consultant positions in public hospitals.
“There is clear evidence of poorer outcomes for patients with dermatological conditions living in regional, rural and remote areas with limited access to specialist dermatology services being a key contributing factor,” it said earlier this year in a pre-budget submission.
“Workforce shortages, urban-centric distribution and funding constraints on training positions mean too many Australians do not have access the
timely, geographically convenient dermatology care they need.”
That long-term shortage had only been exacerbated by COVID-19, Ms Rutherford said.
“It has meant burnout and staff going into isolation, while training has also been delayed in many areas so we don’t have that pipeline of specialist doctors coming through that we normally would,” she said.
“On top of that, doctors that haven’t taken leave in two years are finally booking their overseas holidays which creates even more demand for locums.”
While this presented opportunities for doctors able to fill locum positions, Ms Rutherford stressed there were downsides.
“Public hospitals might be able to offer these rates, but there is no way it is financially sustainable for a specialist in private practice. The result is that many practices are simply unable to access locum cover,” she said.
“The other problem is that doctors who might otherwise set up in a rural area are instead able to work only as locums. When there is so much demand and the money is so good, why wouldn’t they?”
|Locum rates around the country|
|$2,000/day rheumatology consultant, Douglas QLD (willing to work for two weeks from next Monday)
$2,200/day endocrinologist, Burnie TAS
$2,290/day endocrinologist, Gosford NSW
$2,000/day oncology consultants in Rockhampton QLD, Bundaberg QLD, Pialba QLD and Taree NSW
$2,000/day gastroenterology consultants in Latrobe TAS, Cairns QLD, Pialba QLD and Bundaberg QLD.
$2,500/day gastroenterology consultant in Lismore NSW.
$2,500/day general medicine consultant, Grafton NSW
$3,000/day surgical consultant, Goulburn NSW
$2,200/day rural generalist — overnight ED, Parkes NSW
$3,000/day anaesthetic consultant, Wagga Wagga NSW
$3,450/day anaesthetist, Canberra ACT
$4,000/day anaesthetic consultant, Wangarratta VIC on July 22
$2,500/day O&G specialist, Burnie TAS
$3,500/day emergency consultant, Kalgoorlie WA, Wangaratta VIC and locations across Tasmania
$3,750/day emergency consultant, Tamworth NSW
$2,200/day paediatric consultant, Bega NSW
Source: Zeep Medical