Locum rates skyrocket for rheumatologists

Rheumatologists are being offered locum rates of $2,000 per day and above 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 rheumatology job in central NSW is currently advertising a rate of $2,500 per day while another rheumatology position in Townsville is offering $20,000 for a consultant who can start on Monday and work through until the following Friday.

Other specialties are attracting more money, with rates for anaesthetists reaching $4,000 per day in regional Victoria and emergency consultants commanding day rates of $3,500 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 of about $3,000 are fairly standard at the moment but if services are 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 Australian Rheumatology Association raises the alarm over what it says is a “chronic undersupply” of rheumatologists, particularly in rural and remote locations.

The warning follows the release of a report two months ago which found that while 400 rheumatologists were registered to practice in Australia, this equated to only 231 adult specialists and 13 paediatric specialists nationally in full time equivalent terms.

It also found just a quarter were working outside the major cities, while the number of training places was about 50% below what was needed to meet projected workforce needs.

“At that rate, we are never going to meet ideal numbers in the lifetime of my career,” then-ARA president Professor Catherine Hill said in May.

“This shows we will need probably 75% to 100% more trainees to meet the demands.”

These broader challenges had all been exacerbated by COVID-19, Ms Rutherford said.

“It has meant staff going into isolation, burnout 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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