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Ministers accuse GPs of exploiting staff

By Gareth Iacobucci

Ministers have justified their push for a GP pay freeze with a swingeing attack on partners for exploiting their salaried colleagues and practice nurses.

The Department of Health claimed GPs were paying lower salaries to their practice nurses and keeping more money back as profits. It also warned partners were ramping up use of salaried GPs to avoid having to share out their income.

The attack has infuriated many GPs, but also risks exacerbating the growing divide within the profession.

The department's evidence to the Doctors and Dentists Review Body claimed to be based on research from the personal social services research unit. The department estimated that the average basic salary of a practice nurse fell by almost 10% between 2004/5 and 2005/6, from £23,355 to £21,118. The same study found the number of salaried GPs increased by 2,002 over the same period, while the number of partners fell by 1,649.

The department said if this trend were to continue, it would ‘increase the pool of profit' shared by fewer profit-sharing GP partners by around £185m, a rise of ‘around 2% per annum'. On the other hand, it said practice nurses and other staff were ‘taking on a greater proportion of practice workload'.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman refuted the claims, claiming the fall in practice nurse pay was because GPs were employing more lower-paid, part-time nurses.

He added that the relative number of doctors running practices would ‘inevitably' fall as GPs employed more staff to meet rising patient demand.

The accusations sparked a fierce debate among GPs.

Dr George Rae, a GP in Whitley Bay, Tyneside, said: ‘GPs have honoured Agenda for Change and will stick to it. I know of examples of GPs having to take pay cuts because of honouring staff salaries. I'm bitterly disappointed at the Government.'

But Dr Jim Sherifi, a salaried GP in Sudbury, Suffolk, said partners were ‘way better off than in 2004', and that partners were paid about 30% more than salaried GPs, without doing 30% more work.

Do figures back up DH claims?

• Basic salary of practice nurse fell by almost 10% from £23,355 to £21,118
• Number of salaried GPs increased by 2,002
• The number of partners fell by 1,649
Source: personal social services report unit covering changes between 2004/5 and 2005/6

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