Comparing the clinical practice and prescribing safety of locum and permanent doctors: observational study of primary care consultations in England

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Abstract

Background
Temporary doctors, known as locums, are a key component of the medical workforce in the NHS but evidence on differences in quality and safety between locum and permanent doctors is limited. We aimed to examine differences in the clinical practice, and prescribing safety for locum and permanent doctors working in primary care in England.

Methods
We accessed electronic health care records (EHRs) for 3.5 million patients from the CPRD GOLD database with linkage to Hospital Episode Statistics from 1st April 2010 to 31st March 2022. We used multi-level mixed effects logistic regression to compare consultations with locum and permanent GPs for several patient outcomes including general practice revisits; prescribing of antibiotics; strong opioids; hypnotics; A&E visits; emergency hospital admissions; admissions for ambulatory care sensitive conditions; test ordering; referrals; and prescribing safety indicators while controlling for patient and practice characteristics.

Results
Consultations with locum GPs were 22% more likely to involve a prescription for an antibiotic (OR = 1.22 (1.21 to 1.22)), 8% more likely to involve a prescription for a strong opioid (OR = 1.08 (1.06 to 1.09)), 4% more likely to be followed by an A&E visit on the same day (OR = 1.04 (1.01 to 1.08)) and 5% more likely to be followed by an A&E visit within 1 to 7 days (OR = 1.05 (1.02 to 1.08)). Consultations with a locum were 12% less likely to lead to a practice revisit within 7 days (OR = 0.88 (0.87 to 0.88)), 4% less likely to involve a prescription for a hypnotic (OR = 0.96 (0.94 to 0.98)), 15% less likely to involve a referral (OR = 0.85 (0.84 to 0.86)) and 19% less likely to involve a test (OR = 0.81 (0.80 to 0.82)). We found no evidence that emergency admissions, ACSC admissions and eight out of the eleven prescribing safety indicators were different if patients were seen by a locum or a permanent GP.

Conclusions
Despite existing concerns, the clinical practice and performance of locum GPs did not appear to be systematically different from that of permanent GPs. The practice and performance of both locum and permanent GPs is likely shaped by the organisational setting and systems within which they work.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Medicine
Volume22
Issue number126 (2024)
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Locum doctors =
  • Quality of care
  • Patient safety
  • Electronic health records
  • Medical workforce
  • General practice

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