Locum digest

“Being self-employed means looking after yourself”

Four locum optometrists tell OT  how they protect themselves and their finances

Cartoon image shows a calculator, a to-do list, a pair of glasses and a coffee mug on a purple background 

Flexibility, upskilling in different settings, the value of being your own boss: every time OT  speaks to a locum optometrist, their reasons for choosing this path are clear.

With the ability to flex around family life or choose when and when not to work front of mind for those starting out on their locum journey, it is important to remember the less fun aspects of self-employment too: namely insurance, business admin, and making sure you are protected both in the immediate and longer-term.

“Financial planning isn’t just about pensions and retirement planning,” Harmy Bains, independent financial adviser at AOP affinity partner, Lloyd & Whyte, told OT.

He added: “If you’re newly qualified or in the early stages of your optometry career, getting advice on how to handle your income and assets can make the difference between potentially struggling or thriving. There are various aspects that can help you protect your income, your family, and your future when you review your finances.”

For newly-qualified or early career optometrists starting locuming, saving into a pension pot or considering income protection might not seem like a top priority. With busy days and the ongoing securing of shifts likely a locum optometrist’s most immediate concern, it might be easy to kick these longer-term needs down the garden path. But in reality, if not now... when?

Here, locums and experts explain why these administrative aspects of locum life are vital, whether you’re one month or one decade into your self-employment journey.

Starting out: setting up your business

When starting out as a locum, your first task is likely to be officially registering yourself as a business.

Thaksha Sritharan
Locum optometrist Thaksha Sriathran
It’s something that newly qualified optometrist and locum, Thaksha Sritharan, admits was “a challenge” initially.

Like most people embarking on self-employment, Sritharan started out by Googling as much information as she could on the process.

She was then referred to a “very knowledgeable” accountant by a colleague, and was able to get straight answers on the questions that she had, including the difference between a limited company and a sole trader.

“They really took the time to explain everything, and that was really helpful,” Sritharan said.

Buckinghamshire-based locum optometrist, Kam Sandhu, who has been self-employed for seven years, emphasised the importance of finding an accountant who is familiar with locum optometry specifically.

“When I first started locuming, I had an accountant who had absolutely no idea what he was doing and made things more complicated,” Sandhu said. “I was then recommended an accountant by a close friend, and since then running the business has just been so much easier and I’ve not had to worry about that aspect.”

Locum optometrist Resharon Kaur Sihra
Locum optometrist, Resharon Kaur Sihra, also shared the value of using an accountant with specific experience. 

In Sihra’s case, this meant utilising the accountant who had already set up her optometrist husband’s locum business.

“My husband is an optometrist too, and he was a locum first,” she explained. “He already had the business, but the accountant had set it up. He had decided the best thing for us was to be a private limited company.

“We have a spreadsheet for the accountant, where we fill out all our days, including travel. They guide you in what you can do and what you can’t do.”

Sihra believes that the advice offered in terms of tax returns and corporation tax is invaluable.

All her shifts and expenses are logged in a spreadsheet and the accountant prepares the business accounts before they are submitted, she said.

“It’s one pressure off,” she said. “They guide you into what you need to pay.”

Hannah Colclough, who locums in Cheshire and Merseyside, offers an opposing view.

“With setting the business up, I did it all myself,” she said. “I went to an accountant and they said they could set it up for a fee, but I actually found that it was really easy.”

Colclough added that she found following the steps laid out on, including adding a business address, relatively simple.  

She has a practical tip for those going through the process on their own: “If you don't want to use your home address, you can use a registered address,” she said. “You can go online and pay for a registered office, where all your mail goes – like a PO box. If people don’t want their home address on Companies House, they can pay a yearly fee for that as well.”

She added: “It was quite scary to begin with, setting everything up and not wanting to get anything wrong with the Government. But there’s not much you can get wrong. It’s pretty self-explanatory.”

Colclough told OT that setting up a business bank account, another administrative aspect of establishing a locum business, can be quite straightforward too. Her account is with Monzo, but she notes that other locums use and are happy with free accounts offered by online banks Revolut and Starling.

There do not need to be many complexities with a business bank account, she said: “You just need a basic account that you can pay yourself from, and then expenses like fuel can go through there as well.”

Sritharan emphasised that the business side of self-employment involves a learning curve. “At the end of the day, you still feel like you don't know it all, and I guess it just comes with experience,” she said. “Being just seven months in, I think I'll have a couple of surprises here and there down the road.

“But it's just knowing how to manage your finances, being able to ask questions, and finding someone who you can ask questions to, so you’re prepared as much as you can be.”

The importance of indemnity insurance

Colclough emphasised that indemnity insurance is something that is vital for locums – so much so that every practice she has worked at has asked about it before her first shift.

“With the apps that you use to set up work, you have to have indemnity insurance,” she said. “Everywhere I’ve worked at has asked me for it.”

She continued: “The AOP one is great, because it’s for optometrists specifically – it’s not just medical malpractice. I knew from university and from colleagues that that was the one to go for. It’s very well priced.”

Every locum OT spoke to had indemnity insurance with AOP, in Sandhu’s case “since the second I qualified.”

“It’s always advisable to have your own private indemnity insurance, because no one else is going to protect you,” Kaur Sihra said, adding: “I've always had AOP, from the beginning. If you need them, they are there. At the back of your mind, you know you’ve got somebody on your side.”

She added: “The AOP, I have no fault with them. If you have any questions, they will get back to you and they will guide you. I will not have anyone else. You’ve got somebody with you.”

“I’ve found that, as a locum, you feel a lot more pressure,” Colclough shared. “With a residency, you can follow your patients through. But as a locum, you don’t know how other people are going to manage them. That’s where indemnity insurance comes in: if anything slips through the net. Starting out as a locum, obviously, you’re on your own. It’s there if you need it.”

She added: “I know a colleague who has spoken to the AOP for advice. She had questions like, ‘if they haven't got equipment in practice, what do you do?’ If something has happened with a patient and you’re having to deal with it, it’s good that you can use them for advice.”

At the back of your mind, you know you’ve got somebody on your side

Locum optometrist Resharon Kaur Sihra

Protecting yourself with income protection and critical illness cover

Income protection and critical illness cover might seem less vital, but like any insurance this is only the case until it’s suddenly needed.


The percentage of salary that could be paid out via an income protection policy

Income protection provides “a financial safety net should you be unable to work because you’re sick or injured,” Lloyd & Whyte’s Bains said. 

He added that income protection via Lloyd & Whyte can pay up to 65% of a locum optometrist’s salary should the worst happen, and that it can be tailored to suit individuals.

In a similar vein, critical illness cover – designed to pay out if the holder finds themself with a serious, life changing condition that means they can no longer work – can mean a level of security that would not be there otherwise.

Sandhu explained the value of health insurance and income protection: “as a locum, we have no entitlements to statutory sick pay, so I have assurance that should I incur any health problems or accidents,” she said. “I will have quicker access to healthcare and treatments and, if needed, I will still have some form of income.”

In the case of Lloyd & Whyte, policy holders may be able to receive a lump sum on diagnosis of a listed condition, depending on the type of policy they have.

Those without critical illness cover or income protection can get a free quote from Lloyd & Whyte online.  

Finding a balance

OT is interested in hearing how locum optometrists balance their day-to-day work in practice with the demands of self-employment.

For Sihra, a key reason for becoming a locum was the flexibility that it gives her around her young family. Keeping Tuesdays and Thursdays free allows her to update her spreadsheets and stay on top of her admin, she explained.

“You have to be organised and have time management, as a locum,” she said. “That’s the key thing.”

Colclough takes time out once a month to ensure her receipts are up to date and book future shifts.

“I’ll check what has come into the bank account and make a note of that,” she said. “I keep on top of everything, so it’s not left to the last minute. The main one is keeping on top of your mileage.”

She added: “Don't use your personal calendar. I keep all my shifts on a separate planner. I use MyShiftPlanner, on the App Store.”

She also prefers booking shifts in advance to finding last-minute slots, even if the latter might pay better.

“I’m definitely not that person,” she said. “Shifts usually come out two or three months in advance, so keep on top of it, know where you want to work, and make sure you can work there. [That way] you’re not stressing about income, because you’ve got the shifts booked. Even if one cancels, you’re not stressed about the whole week being off.”

Sihra appreciates the community of locums that exists. “We've got locum groups on WhatsApp, so everyone helps each other, if you have a question or you need help,” she said. “We are like our own little family.”