‘Price gouging’ medical recruiters costing millions, says former GP turned MP

Greens MP Dr Amanda Cohn calls for state to take over recruiting locums.
Rachel Fieldhouse
Dr Amanda Cohn. Photo: The Greens website.

A former GP turned politician wants locum doctor recruitment to be taken out of the hands of “price gouging” private agencies and given to state governments instead.

Dr Amanda Cohn, who worked as a locum before entering NSW state parliament last year, says some recruitment agencies are “incentivised” to push for the highest rates from hospitals because they were paid commission.

There has been renewed debate about the rights and wrongs of locum rates, with some doctors reportedly being paid up to $4000 a day to fill vacancies in hard-pressed rural areas.

In her own experience, Dr Cohn said she had been encouraged by the agencies to hold off until the hospital offered “crisis rates”. 

“Private recruitment agents, some of whom are paid commission, are incentivised to price gouge our hospitals,” the Greens MP told parliament. 

“Those agents have discouraged me from accepting placements before the hospital was offering crisis rates. 

“I witnessed and experienced that firsthand working at Western, Far West and Murrumbidgee local health districts, and the locum problem is only getting worse.

“At Murrumbidgee, for example, the annual locum spend has ballooned from $30,000 to $1.8 million in the past decade.”

Because local health districts and hospitals used different agencies, Dr Cohn said the system was piecemeal and inefficient.

“I have worked at hospitals where two doctors have accidentally been booked to work the same role for the same week and there is no doctor on the following week,” she added.

Last month, she proposed a motion to NSW parliament which would have banned the use recruitment agencies.

It was amended, but it means that parliament will hold an inquiry into the use of private agencies for recruiting and allocating temporary health workers across the state.

Dr Cohn also claimed that many doctors were also prevented from continuing at hospitals beyond their placement.

“Many agencies actually put in the terms of their contracts with doctors that they are not allowed to directly accept any offer to stay on or return to the same hospital without going back through the agency,” she said.

She also called for harmonised processes to onboard and credential doctors working between regions.

“I was asked to complete more than 15 hours of unpaid online modules for recredentialing in workplace basics,” she said.

“Regional NSW is absolutely beautiful in its diversity, but I can assure members that the most important differences between regions are not captured by the online handwashing module.”

Read more: Doctors take industrial action to protest pay and over-reliance on locums