Employers urged by AOP to make sure they treat locum staff fairly and retain trust

Concerns raised as employers confirm locum rates have fallen due to a decrease in demand and revenue during the pandemic

high street in Edinburgh
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Locum optometrist members are seeing a significant reduction in the daily rates on offer from employers as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the AOP is warning.

Having been alerted by AOP members to a rate reduction, the AOP told OT that it had contacted employers to investigate. The association confirmed that locum rates have fallen, with an explanation from employers that it is due to a decrease in demand and revenue across the whole sector.

With signs of the lockdown starting to be eased by the UK Government, the AOP said that it hoped that routine sight testing will start up again soon, creating more work, and enabling locums who have faced financial problems during the lockdown to return to work.

Speaking on behalf of the AOP, councillor for the South West of England, Ed Bickerstaffe, told OT that when routine testing commences again, the need for social distancing and infection control is likely to mean that sight test volumes and practice revenue will stay lower than they were before the COVID-19 crisis.

“That will have big implications for optical practices and optometrists – and the AOP and the other sector bodies are already in discussion with government and the NHS about what it means for future models of GOS service delivery,” he said.

Mr Bickerstaffe suggested that locum rates might remain lower than they have historically been for some time to come, but added that the demand for eye care is expected to remain strong over time, which is likely to mean locum optometrists will also be in increasing demand and daily rates will rise again.

“In the meantime, we’re urging employers to make sure they treat their locum staff fairly and ensure that rates reflect the value of the work their locums do as the volume of activity grows,” he said.

“This is in everyone’s interests. Locum optometrists are a highly skilled and flexible workforce and play a key role in enabling optical practices to operate efficiently, manage disruption, and ensure a continued high-quality service to their patients.”

Mr Bickerstaffe added that employers might also want to take on locums where they haven’t before. “Locums could take up the slack that is the result of catching up with a potential increase in patients that want a sight test by filling normal non-testing days or a second consulting room,” he explained.

“It’s vital that employers retain the trust of the locum workforce by treating them fairly in circumstances that seem sure to be challenging for everyone for some time to come.”