Lowered and capped locum rates for UK optometrists are the subject of a petition that has been signed by nearly 500 people.
Responding to the lowered rates that locums have been offered from multiples, the petition calls for minimum rates – giving the example of £300 for a weekday and £350 for a Saturday.
The petition’s founder, who asked for his details to remain anonymous, told OT that locums needed to stand together to challenge the “culture of devaluation” that is responsible for the lowered rates being offered recently.
He explained that until recently, an offer for a day’s work at a multiple would have averaged £300, but now the rates he was approached with went no higher than £250.
“Compared to last year, it is a significant difference,” he said.
Capped locum rates now meant that multiples cancelled clinics if they could not get a locum that would work for their offer, he alleged.
Locums had already been stung by rates that had stayed the same as the cost of living increased. In the meantime, the responsibilities of the job have increased, he highlighted.
“I often literally have to be in two places at once,” he emphasised.
AOP policy director, Kathy Jones, told OT that: “Locums are an increasing and important part of the optometry workforce, making up almost a fifth of the sector.”
Ms Jones emphasised that: “While decisions about pay are for individual businesses, it is important that the skilled professional work of locums and all optometrists is properly valued.”
She added: It is of real concern that the number of optometrists earning below £30,000 has risen in the past five years.
“Pay rates vary by region because of variations in market conditions. A greater supply of job seekers tends to exist in areas surrounding schools of optometry and can lead to lower pay in those areas,” Ms Jones highlighted.
Specsavers director of professional recruitment, Chris Howarth, told OT that he believed self-employed rates had risen recently on average, adding: “There is no concerted strategy in this organisation to drive down rates paid to self-employed professionals. We do however accept that practice owners need to operate sensibly in order to ensure that re-investment on behalf of their patients remains possible.
“As a joint venture partnership, our local partners are free to agree rates with self-employed professionals as they see fit and as are appropriate to the service provided and the timing of that provision,” he explained.
“Specsavers welcomes an engagement with self-employed professionals and is working hard to make this engagement as beneficial for both sides as possible,” Mr Howarth concluded.
Boots Opticians declined to comment for this article. Tesco Opticians and Vision Express were also contacted by OT, but did not respond.