Locum pay skyrockets for oncologists

Oncologists 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 oncology consultants available to work in regional cities including Toowoomba, Hervey Bay, Townsville and Bundaberg in Queensland as well as Taree in NSW. Oncology registrars are also being offered up to $200 hourly for short term locum jobs.

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.”

“Often there’s just no one available. So what that means is that jobs aren’t being picked up until the very last moment which drives up the price.”

It comes as MOGA raises the alarm over the growing undersupply of oncologists, particularly in rural and remote locations.

Figures from the group’s latest workforce survey showed the average number of new patients per FTE medical oncologist was 242 in Victoria, a major increase of 73 in a decade.

The shortfall was even greater in outer metropolitan and regional cancer centres, which reported figures of 330 and 280 new patients per medical oncologist, respectively.

Presenting the results at MOGA 2021, survey lead Dr Craig Underhill noted this was far in excess of benchmark levels of 160-175 new patients per oncologist reported in Canada and Western Europe.

“The average workload … is much higher than accepted standards and is probably higher than is practical to deliver safe and efficient services,” he said.

That broader issue 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

$2,500/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

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