31/10/2007

GP Pay Tops £110K - Though Not In NI

While GPs nationally are now enjoying the benefits of the protracted national pay negotiations that led a settlement in 2003/2004, Northern Irleand medics are lagging behind - but only a little.

New figurers - based on GP partners who run the practices rather than those employed on a salary - show some disparity when broken down by country.

Family doctors in England are earning an average of £113,600, compared to £102,200 in Wales, £90,600 in Scotland and £98,700 in Northern Ireland.

However, this differential is said to be linked to patient list sizes.

Some do much better though, with over 1,000 GPs nationally earning over £200,000 - thought to be doctors who run a pharmacy as well as surgery.

The average family doctor’s pay in the UK rose by 10% to £110,000 in just 12 months, according to latest figures.

The data from the NHS Information Centre is for the year 2005-6 - the second year of the new GP contract.

It comes after pay rose by 20% in the first year and means GPs have seen pay rise by about £30,000 in two years.

The deal also allowed GPs to opt out of weekend and evening care, which critics say has suffered after private firms and groups of medics were taken on.

But Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, defended the rises and said family doctors deserved to be paid well. He said: "The job is enjoyable because of our dealing with patients. No business is worth what we do.

"Most of the increase in GP pay in recent years has come from the extra resources that GPs earn if they offer higher quality patient care.

"The outcome from this raised quality is a better standard of health for our patients."

He also said: “We know from a UK-wide GP survey that three quarters of GP principals expect income to go down this year (2007-08). This is supported by estimates from accountants.

"There is a limit to the efficiencies you can make and the inflation effects you can absorb on a zero pay award: 0% for GPs in 2007-08 could actually equate to a 6% cut in income in real terms.

"Family doctors are now being penalised for rising to the challenge of performance-related-pay for delivering the quality care the Government asked for.”

He also said that the figures released today are calculated from income tax returns and include all GP income.

This includes private work earned outside the NHS from things like insurance medicals, as well as earnings outside the GP contract such as the out-of-hours shifts that thousands of GPs still work.

Also, salaried GPs usually earn substantially less than colleagues who organise and run practices as well as doing clinical work. Dr Buckman said: “The headline figures published today do not include salaried GP earnings and therefore don’t reflect the overall average NHS GP income which is considerably lower than £100,000.”

The hard-fought GP ‘New Deal’ contract overhauled the way doctors were paid, with most of the negotiations taking place in 2003.

The result means that about two thirds of their pay is effectively made up by a basic salary with the rest being paid dependent on performance in carrying out a range of services such as vaccinations and blood pressure monitoring.

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw maintained care had improved and said it was right GPs were rewarded for that.

But he also said he wanted to see doctors adopt more flexible opening hours - in the past few months the government has been telling GPs it wants to see more evening and weekend clinics.

"We will be working with GPs to ensure that at least 50% of practices extend their opening hours and we are taking action to tie GP income more closely to patient experiences."

Many predict GP pay will not rise greatly in the next two years after the basic pay was frozen in 2006-7 and 2007-8. However, it is still possible the performance-related element may cause an increase.

(BMcC)

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