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The nationals papers just don't get how GPs are paid

Is it worth the profession continuing to take grief over stories like the swine flu deal?

By Richard Hoey

Is it worth the profession continuing to take grief over stories like the swine flu deal?

The national media couldn't agree on a figure for how much GPs were going to be paid for running the swine flu vaccination campaign.

The Times reckoned they would get about £3,000 each, the Daily Mail £4,000, and the Independent, apparently keen to show left-leaning quality papers can do the hype game too, claimed GPs could get up to £20,000 each should they deliver all the vaccine to be stockpiled.

But the one thing they could agree on was that general practice was in line for another great big lump sum of cash, with the new money described in several of the papers as a ‘bonus', offered to GPs ‘despite having seen their pay soar in recent years', as the Mail helpfully added.

Not for the first time, the national newspapers displayed a complete, and perhaps wilful, ignorance of how GP pay works.

There was begrudging mention of the need for the money to pay staff overtime, but essentially the papers ignored the fact that GPs are independent contractors, much of whose pay goes towards covering costs rather than straight into their pockets.

And there was next to no national coverage of another story that might just have made the true picture a little clearer.

We learned this week that GP partner pay is down for the second year running, because of those costs, while the salaries of their staff continue to go up.

The Daily Mail factor – that routine bias in the way GP pay figures are reported – is having a real effect now on calculations about how in future GP contracts should work.

As one leading GP told me earlier this week, we could get to the point where there is simply ‘too much grief' in being independent contractors.

And if that became the case, the idea of a consultant-style contract, where what GPs are actually paid is clearly set down in black and white, might become more attractive.

We're not there yet, but the idea is gaining traction in certain quarters of the BMA.

Another clutch or two of negative stories about GP pay, and maybe it really will be time for a serious look at the idea.

By Richard Hoey, Pulse editor

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