What is a Locum Doctor?

What is a Locum Doctor?

Jun 26, 2020.

So, what is a locum doctor? A locum doctor is one who temporarily fills a rota gap within a hospital, clinic or practice. This can often be on a relatively short-term basis, although in the healthcare sector, it’s not uncommon for locums to hold their post as part of a practice’s core medical team for more extended periods.

‘Locum’ is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase ‘locum tenens’, which literally translates as ‘place holder’. Although primarily associated with GPs, nurses and other healthcare staff in the UK, the term locum isn’t exclusive to the medical profession – it’s also used within the education system to refer to temporary teaching staff.

What does a locum doctor do in the NHS?

On average, there are more than 20,000 locum doctor jobs and/or vacancies active within the NHS (and among private practices) at any one time. Around 80% of locum roles within hospitals are filled by agencies that work directly with the NHS, of which ID Medical is among the largest and longest-established.

The vast majority of these professionals are employed in various GP or nursing posts at numerous types of clinics, surgeries and local healthcare facilities, with around 3,500 being posted in hospitals. The roles themselves can incorporate anything from single surgery sessions to primary care postings, regularly scheduled appointments or on-call evening visits.

Most locum doctors are employed by the NHS through ‘direct relationship’ agencies like ID Medical, and assigned to healthcare facilities that have temporary staffing vacancies in key roles. Locum vacancies arise either due to absences among a facility’s core medical staff, or because a particular clinic or surgery has a pressing need to fill posts (typically on an ongoing basis) for which permanent funding has yet to be agreed.

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What are the pros and cons of being an NHS locum doctor?

A locum healthcare worker won’t necessarily have the same long-term contracted status in a given post as a permanent member of their medical team would. However, for many doctors and nurses – particularly early career professionals – this can actually be a distinct advantage.

There are various reasons why being employed as a locum doctor within an NHS hospital or local surgery is a popular choice for many doctors, GPs and nursing staff. Indeed, a large number of graduates choose to follow this path through their early healthcare careers, and many prefer to continue working on a locum basis long-term.

Some of the strongest arguments in favour of choosing to work as a locum doctor include:

– Reliably high demand for locum roles across both the NHS and private healthcare sectors

  • Often a chance to access better rates of pay
    • Many locum roles needing to be staffed as a priority
    • It’s common for short-term contract offers to include higher remuneration than full-time posts, in exchange for requiring greater versatility
    • For more detail, see our article The 5 benefits of taking up extra locum shifts.
  • A regular supply of varied, interesting, and rewarding work placements and roles
  • Greater flexibility in terms of departments, colleagues, and geographical locations
    • An opportunity to observe and experience many different aspects and perspectives on a future medical career, without having to make a defining commitment early on
    • Valuable insight into a much broader range of individual practice procedures and conditions, including clinical, administrative and management aspects
  • Increased potential for part-time or flexible hours
    • Greater control over general work-life balance
    • Improved compatibility with any additional ongoing/future training or upskilling programs (additionally, ‘training appointment’ locum positions will also include in-post training as a core aspect of the role)

If you’re considering a medical career path involving locum doctor or healthcare work, check out our locum doctor vacancies today.

For more information or any other enquiries about locum medical work, feel free to contact a member of the ID Medical team at any time or email your CV to marketing@id-medical.com.


We’re the UK’s biggest supplier of locum doctors to the NHS – working with 95% of the country’s hospital trusts! If you’re looking to get the best shifts available as a locum, sign up with us today via the button below!

Alternatively, see more information on ID Medical as a locum doctor agency.

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