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Spiralling expenses prompt further drop in GP income

Soaring practice expenses have taken a further toll on GP earnings, with GP partners' income falling by an average of 1.5% in 2010/11, new figures show.

Data from the NHS Information Centre's report on GP earnings in 2010/11 show that partners' income fell to an average of £104,100 – bringing GP pay to £6,000 less than its peak level six years ago, a year after the new contract was introduced – while income for GMS GPs dipped into five figures.

GMS partners earned an average of £99,000, down 1.3% from £100,400 in 2009/10, while PMS GPs earned an average of £113,400, down 1.6%.

Overall, average gross earnings rose 1.5%, from £262,700 in 2009/10 to £266,500 last year but total expenses rose by 3.5% from £156,900 to £162,400. This drove the expenses-to-earnings ratio – the proportion of gross earnings taken up by expenses – up 1.2 percentage points to 60.9%, a record since the new contract in 2004.

Average income before tax for salaried GPs decreased by 0.7% between 2009/10 and 2010/11, from £58,000 to £57,600.

Regional breakdowns showed GPs in the South West had the lowest income before tax in England- an average of £93,200 - and the highest earnings to expenses ratio at 64.2%.

NHS Information Centre chief executive Tim Straughan said: ‘Our report shows that income has fallen for contractor GPs since it reached its peak in 2005/06.'

‘From our figures, we can see that the fall in actual income before tax for the latest year is influenced by the increase in expenses that practices are facing. While contractor GPs' gross earnings are continuing to move upwards, this small rise is offset by the bigger increase they face in the cost of running their practices.'

Dr Harry Yoxall, medical secretary of Somerset LMC, said smaller practice lists could be responsible for the GPs in the South West earning less than colleagues elsewhere:

‘It's partly because of the rural locations and lower populations and partly because of a slightly old-fashioned feeling about general practice among the GPs,' he said.

‘You tend to come to the South West to have a good work-life balance and doctors after high earnings are probably less likely to choose this area.'