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Salaried doctors and medical accountants are backing claims that a widening pay gap between GPs is turning general practice into a two-tier pro-fession.

Accountants said the gulf between high and low earners was already as much as £175,000 a year and would grow further.

Meanwhile, salaried GPs said that they were increasingly being seen as an 'under-class' compared with principals.

The comments came after Dr Andrew Thornett, a GP academic in Lichfield, Staff-ordshire, told a recent RCGP conference that falling pay

for salaried GPs and rising earnings for principals were changing the shape of the

profession.

Rosemary Smith, GP liaison manager for accountant Sandison Easson in Wilmslow, Cheshire, said top earners among her GP clients brought home £175,000 more than the lowest. 'There really is an increased gulf and it seems to be widening,' she said.

Valerie Martin, national director of medical services for accountant PKF, said principals in big successful practices were earning up to £240,000.

'It is an enormous disparity that we are seeing but it is a return for the work that people put in,' she said.

However, Dr Mark Selman, joint deputy chair of the GPC's sessional GPs subcommittee, said salaried GP pay rates were not keeping pace with principals'.

Much of this was as a result of principals wanting to 'keep profits to themselves', he added. 'Already partnerships are reluctant to replace retiring partners, preferring more sal-aried GPs on lower rates.'

Dr Selman said: 'There is a problem already starting to occur, an underclass of people that cannot quite make it to partnership. They have much less pay and can get trapped.'

By Daile Pepper

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