Locums fight lowered rates

Hundreds of locum and resident optometrists have signed a petition opposing falling locum fees

07 Jul 2016 by Olivia Wannan

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.

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Comments (13)

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    I am a locum who has regular days between two places. Let me tell you this: I worked damn hard to get to where I am. The bosses at both places have offered my more regular days several times over the years. I have spent years making sure the directors see me as a very valuable asset. I see more patients than the residents. I am 'commercially aware'. I get excellent feedback from patients. I'm clinically sound. I'm always punctual... you get the idea. Just because you're a locum doesn't automatically give you 5+ days of work at £300 or more. I have earned the directors trust to the point they see me as a very valuable asset. I have made myself wanted by the directors through hard work. So to all the locums who are having a hissy fit about locum pay I have a few questions: Do you see more patients than the resident optoms? Do you get better patient feedback than the resident optoms? Do you make more money for the stores than the resident optoms? Are you a clinically good optom? If the answer to these sort of questions is 'no' then stop whining and work harder. If the answer to these questions is 'yes' than the boss will want to keep you and I'm sure will pay you well. All you have to do is make yourself more valuable to the bosses. This petition is a joke for the above reason but also for another reason. The person who started the petition doesn't understand the supply and demand dynamic and is just being selfish. Supply and demand is the most powerful force in the world. It applies everywhere. It's not difficult to understand either. The more of something there is the less it's worth. Very simple. Several new optometry courses have come out in recent years (I think we're in double digits now). This is going to drive down the optometists' salary. You can whine all you like about 'extra responsibilities' and' 'increasing litigation risk' but Mr supply and demand doesn't care. Market forces determine the price to a large extent. If there are enough optoms about who in their right mind would pay £300 when they could get a locum for £250 or less? The problem is when people have a vested interest in something they stop thinking rationally. This is a very leftist behaviour. When something doesn't go their way they throw their toys out of the pram instead of working even harder. I have been working flat out for the last five years as a locum because it was becoming clear that salaries were on the way down. I'm now in a position that it doesn't matter if I get very little work as I am financially very secure. I took responsibility. Why don't you?

    Report 6

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    Locum rates have not risen much since the 90's- locum Optoms need to realize that the multiples cannot function without them- we must demand our worth

    Report 4

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    This article is still open for comments, but we have also moved it onto the AOP's community forums for member discussion. Please join the wider debate in the general forum: https://community.aop.org.uk/posts/m901-Share-your-views-on-the-lowering-and-capping-of-locum-rates#post901.

    Report 5

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    Unfortunately the profession has shot itself in the foot in so many ways .....and the above article is yet another example. Unfortunately the salary of Optometrists will continue to fall ... why? Simple supply and demand theory..... It begins at grass roots.....As an optometrist who has worked for several major large companies/independents/ and now locum let me explain my take on this. When I first qualified about 15 years there were perhaps about 6 universities in the United Kingdom that did the Optometry degree and the most of those no doubt took on more students than they could handle (more students more fees more income). My own university was a complete shambles in the first year where we would often found 4 to a slit lamp and in lectures students sitting on lecture room stairs as there wasn't enough room to cope, then there was not enough patients to go around in the final year to practice to get those numbers ... Stressful ! Now we have more universities coming forward to continue to produce optometrists in high numbers.... We have the GOC /college/major companies to thank for that. And what's interesting is the major companies will continue to make sure there is just enough number of pre-reg places to conveniently accommodate all these budding bright eyed graduating optoms. Let's see, you have the company who claims to be the family health care name you can trust vs the company that claims to be high tech and speedy vs the company that offers budget bargain prices and now let's not forget the supermarkets who offer free eye test all year round but use the same philosophy as their bananas which is 'stack them high and sell them low '. Pre-reg students will be invited with open arms. Now once they have their quota of pre-students then in less than 12 months time they will be GOC qualified and starting salaries will be around 25k plus car supplement (if you're lucky) . Now , it's in the best interest of the top companies to have more optoms on their books than they have permanent resident positions just so they can have mobile floating optoms to cover holidays and sickness. So already the demand for locums within the the top 3 plus supermarkets is less . This is where the fun starts , because those locums who are in need of work get a bit desperate , they start bargaining with the agencies or companies direct by offering to work at a reduced rate and why not ? If you get a quote for a any job most of the time you'll go for the cheapest ... And hope that you're getting value .... If not you'll know better next time and get another locum in. Then you have the part time locum who has a partner who is the main bread winner and so will work for less than £200 a day just because its on their door step. There will always be locum work it's just what will you be prepared to accept as work and would you turn down is up to you. The fact the petition is set up by anonymous tells me the option does not want to bite the hand that feeds them :) 500 signed out of 20,000 optoms on GOC register isn't really going to raise an eyebrow with these companies. Now let's look at the residents , whose salaries have remained pretty constant except for maybe incremental annual pay rises if your in a supermarket (because legally they have to offer that to all employees from bakery to pharmacists to opticians) . The rest will have to make do with either the same salary who being told that they can hit the dizzy heights of 50k a year if you hit that bonus ..... Conversion vs average order value vs contacts lens signs ups ( you all know what I'm talking about ;).... ) So we have residents with little pay rise unhappy and we have locums with lowering daily rates ....... And here's the conclusion/morale after 15 years of optics you will not be greatly better paid as a locum against a resident employed who has their indemnity / GOC/ holiday /sickness paid ..... Infact as a resident you have the security but hassle of figures and as a locum you may have the flexibility but you have the future knowledge that your daily rate dwindle because it's starting to balance .... So why don't the big companies comment because it's in their best interest. So going forward I don't think the optom who started the petition will win this argument because like I said it comes down to supply and demand ... And unless he or she can radically change the system ..... I wait the day ..... In the mean time we should as a profession be petitioning against the undermining rise of free eye tests and of course the pathetic rise of the GOS 1 sight test fee every year :( whose with me ? Hit like ! It's time to take back our profession !!!

    Report 12

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    Locums should stick together and refuse to work for low rates. Especially when multiples devalue the profession by giving free tests and free 2nd pairs. When cancelled clinics hit the bottom line maybe the rates will return to a reasonable amount.

    Report 8

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    What a circus - if im a business owner and someone will work for a reduced rate then i would be silly not to accept it. Locums and optometrists stand together and accept no less than is reasonable for the work. The pressure/ targets etc for a pitiful salary!! no thanks - you know what your worth with the skills etc. If you let businesses dictate-you have only yourselves to blame - stand together say no - thats it. No optom=No business.

    Report 6

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    get real - locum rates are due to fall ! we now produce far too many optometrists and I agree with the first comment this is hardly a shabby salary considering the lack of responsibility a locum has ! open your own business or buy an existing one and then consider if a locum is paid too much or too little.

    Report 3

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    Unless my maths is wrong a locum on £300 a day, working a 5 day week, 48 weeks of the year - which is what a full time optometrist would do - would be on £72,000 per annum. That is hardly a shabby salary! As an optom business owner, with all the added responsibility that a locum does NOT have, I would love to work 5 days a week and walk away from it all at the end of the day for £72k per annum. "Locums have travel costs" - so does everyone else who travels to work! "locums have to pay their own insurance and registration fees" - so do I. To earn £30k per year a locum has to work a whole 100 days out of 253 working days........ Agreed that if a locum is a TRUE locum - i.e. going to many different practices at short notice without knowing the systems then yes, it is a stressful job deserving of a reasonable rate, but a huge number of "locums" work regular days in a selected number of practices so know the systems etc. could someone please explain what I am missing here?

    Report 5

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    A much needed stand of solidarity. Locum rates as low as £145 for a Saturday being offered in Northern Ireland. As the previous comment highlights those accepting these rates are doing a disservice to themselves and their peers.

    Report 5

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    If optometrists fail to demonstrate solidarity on this issue, including those who do not currently locum, then rates and salaries in general will continue to plummet even further below what is already an unacceptable level. Both locums and employed optometrists should simply refuse to work for less than £300 as a weekday rate, £350 as a weekend rate or a £35,000 annual employed starting salary. The optometrist's levels of skill, knowledge and responsibility must be rewarded appropriately. Without the optometrist, an opticians practice is essentially a retail space for the sale of non-prescription spectacle frames, for which I don't believe there's too much demand.

    Report 5

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    I have been working as a locum since 1995 and still only getting £250 for a weekday. As a professional person it devalues my skills especially given all the extra training and responsibility we now have. My financial advisor charges £200 an hour! Even tradesmen get paid more per day than we do. Maybe I should go to evening classes and become a plumber!

    Report 5

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    And we know have to check all children's dispensing and fitting as there is invariably no other qualified staff on the premises. Oh, and recommend this and recommend that. Oh, and do you do the MECS as well? Oh, and we've just reduced the appointment times you have for children and contact lens to 20 minutes.

    Report 6

  • Avatar image of person name

    Anonymous

    Two fifty a day is what I earned as a locum twenty years ago. Too many optometry schools and a loss making NHS fee. Time for a new occupation I think

    Report 6

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