Respiratory physicians 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 respiratory consultants available to work in the Queensland cities of Mackay and Mount Isa, and Burnie in Tasmania. Another job in Bendigo, VIC, is being advertised at a daily rate of $2,500 for a respiratory specialist available to work four weeks in August.
Other specialties are attracting even more money, with rates for anaesthetists reaching $4000 per day in regional Victoria and emergency consultants commanding daily 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 the RACP raises the alarm over the shortage of qualified specialists outside the major cities, warning that while it currently administers around 380 specialist training positions around the country, only a small minority are currently in rural areas.
“The RACP has a waiting list of well over 100 STP positions that are currently unfunded by the program, and we are likely to add even more during this year’s STP Expression of Interest round,” college president Dr Jacqueline Small said in May.
“These training places are a critical component in ensuring communities have access to specialist health care.”
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|
|$2,500/day respiratory consultant, Bendigo VIC
$2,000/day respiratory consultant, Mount Isa QLD, Mackay QLD and Burnie TAS
$2,000/day rheumatology consultant, Douglas QLD
$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