Rachael Machin reflects on being a locum physio during the pandemic
After setting up her own fledgling physiotherapy business at the beginning of the year, Rachael Machin had to think on her feet when the repercussions of Covid-19 became unavoidable. Finding a locum post in a local NHS hospital meant she could pay the bills but made her aware of the downsides of this type of work.
With 26 years’ experience as a chartered physiotherapist in the NHS, I bit the bullet last January and set up my own musculoskeletal (MSK) physiotherapy practice. My business was progressing well until the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly hit the UK, resulting in a national lockdown in March.
I nervously began work in a clinical area I hadn’t been in for more than two decades. Despite the upheaval and stress that Covid-19 had triggered, I was relieved to find the team I joined was incredibly supportive and helpful
As I began looking at locum posts in the NHS, I discovered they were scarce and soon headed back to the medical wards at a local NHS hospital that I had known in the past. Equipping myself with any knowledge I could find from the internet and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), I nervously began work in a clinical area I hadn’t been in for more than two decades. Despite the upheaval and stress that Covid-19 had triggered, I was relieved to find the team I joined was incredibly supportive and helpful.
Physios in locum posts can be excluded from in-service training sessions, but my new colleagues treated me like a permanent member of staff and invited me along. Many locums find themselves on the periphery of teams due to the transient nature of their work. If this had been the case for me, the stress of losing my business and surviving the pandemic while juggling financial uncertainty might have been overwhelming.
The availability of personal protective equipment availability was never an issue, but in the first few weeks there were wide variations in how the guidelines were interpreted. We found ourselves having to justify using FFP3 masks (filtering face pieces that filter at least 99% of airborne particles) and gowns to nursing staff who thought we were being overly cautious and even wasteful.
As some of my colleagues began to contract the virus, my stress levels rose as I was not entitled to sick pay and had ongoing bills from my clinic. When antibody testing became available, locums were excluded, and I had to fight battles with the NHS trust and my locum agency until we were allowed the test.
Six months later I realise I have learned so much – both personally and professionally. Financially, my business is no longer viable and MSK locum posts are practically non-existent. Despite this, I am hopeful that, as restrictions ease, job opportunities will begin to appear. Fortunately, I have remained well and earned a regular income. My stress levels have reduced and I’m staying optimistic for better times ahead.
To see the latest on Covid-19 from the CSP, visit: www.csp.org.uk/news/coronavirus
To contact Rachael, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Locum posts: the pluses and minuses
- locum physiotherapists are employed by the NHS on a temporary basis to fill short-term staffing gaps
- contracts vary, but generally only a week’s notice is required from either side when a spell of employment is ending
- the nomadic, transient style of work can be attractive for various reasons, but is stressful – even at the best of times
- high rates of pay are an illusion – there is no holiday, study or sick pay, or occupational health support
- locums have to pay for mandatory training and for blood tests that prove we are correctly immunised before we can work clinically