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GP pay slumps as one in four takes 10% cut

By Pat Anderson

Exclusive: A quarter of GPs have taken a pay cut of more than 10% in the past three years, as successive pay squeezes, PCT spending cuts and rising expenses stretch practice finances to breaking point, a Pulse survey reveals.

Results from Pulse's State of the Profession Survey of 576 GPs show take-home pay has fallen sharply since 2008, with six GPs in 10 reporting a hit to their personal pay packet and the average GP's pay cut by just over 4%.

According to the most recent figures from the NHS Information Centre, GMS partners earned an average of £99,200 before tax in 2008/9, down 1.2% from the previous year.

But findings from Pulse's survey suggest that GPs' earnings have plummeted since the last set of official figures. As well as the 24% who said their pay had fallen by over 10%, 19% said it had fallen by between 5% and 10% and 18% said it had fallen by up to 5%. A quarter of GPs reported no change, while just 15% said they had seen a rise.

Accountants backed the findings and predicted further squeezes on pay.

Bob Senior, chair of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants and director of medical services at RSM Tenon, said: ‘Profits in the year to March 2009 were largely stable or dropped a shade. Then in the year to March 2010 there was a drop of 3-5% on average. We are expecting that trend to continue, with a 3-5% drop in the year to March 2011.'

He attributed the falls to the low level of uplift in GMS funding and rising expenses – but also said other factors such as the scrapping of the QOF square-root formula, cuts to enhanced services funding and patient survey losses were to blame.

Other accountants warned that the net pay freeze in this year's pay deal, combined with the Government's threat to increase GPs' pension contributions, could lead to further falls.

Jeanette Brown, medical accounts partner at Dodd & Co, said practice accounts were ‘absolutely flatlining'.

‘Unless something major comes along, I can't see it changing much. We are working on the 2011 figures and they are not hopeful,' she said.

GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash said recent pay squeezes had taken a toll on GPs' take-home pay, and vowed to push for a pay uplift next year despite an ‘extremely difficult' economic situation.

‘We have said repeatedly that general practice has suffered pay cuts year on year, and this is unacceptable,' she said.

But fellow GPC negotiator Dr Peter Holden warned that making the case for an uplift in GPs' pay would be politically fraught: ‘Now is not the time for whinging, as our hit is nothing like the hit our patients have had. The public is not going to get the violins out.'

Dr Sunil Sharma, a GP in Toddington, Bedfordshire, said it was becoming increasing difficult to offer staff a pay rise: ‘The Government's expecting us to do more with the same amount of money, but the cost of doing things is getting more expensive.

‘The income coming into the surgery has not changed, but all our expenses are going up. That has a knock-on effect on our take-home pay.'

Dr Jonathan Hall, a GP in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland, said: ‘I have taken a 15% hit in the last three years and have had no drawings increase in the last six years.'

Dr Sunil Sharma Pulse's State of the Profession Survey

See more results from Pulse's State of the Profession Survey at http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk/professionsurvey.

Event: Making a Profit in Testing Times

Boost your practice profits by getting ahead on the changes to QOF to protect your core income, preparing for the impact of GP commissioning and mitigating the impact of the latest GP pay freeze at Pulse's seminar: Making a Profit in Testing Times

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