GP partners’ income decreased by 10% in real terms over a nine-year period, which ‘may have contributed to current recruitment and retention problems’ according to new research findings.
A study by the University of Manchester found that income for GP partners in England dropped from an average of £109,363 in 2008 to £98,373 in 2017 when adjusted for inflation and working patterns.
The research team analysed annual NHS Digital data, which Pulse reported on earlier this year as claiming GP partners’ income had risen by 3.5% in the past year, while expenses had reached a ‘record high’.
This latest analysis, commissioned by the Government-backed National Institute for Health Research and published in the BJGP, found the NHS Digital figures may not be a true represenation of GP earnings. This is because they include both NHS and private work – and do not take into account changes to working patterns, such as part-time hours.
The University of Manchester team instead used data from a national GP work-life survey completed by around 1,000 GPs from 2008 to 2017.
They found earnings for salaried GPs in England have also declined in the same time period – by 7% when adjusted for inflation and the number of sessions worked.
In 2008, salaried GPs earned a real income of £58,080 but dropped in 2017 to £51,208.
Additionally, the average number of sessions worked by GP partners dropped from 7.7 to 7 per week, and 5.6 to 5.3 for salaried GPs.
Researchers suggested the downward trend, which is not seen in secondary care, could be playing a part in the GP recruitment crisis.
The study said: ‘It is possible that this downward trend in GP income is contributing to the problems of recruitment and retention. This downward trend in income is not seen for doctors working in hospitals, which is reported as a more appealing career option for doctors in training.’
The study analysed data from reported income from GPs so researchers did acknowledge the data may be ‘biased by recall error’ or due to ‘social desirability bias.’
They found a downward trend in the response rate over the time period so more recent data may not be as accurate – but noted this is in line with an international trend of declining survey response rates.
Recruitment issues have continued to affect GP practices in a crisis town in Kent, causing all practices in Ramsgate to restrict its patient lists over patient safety concerns.
Elsewhere, a trust in Cheshire has taken over its third GP surgery after partners handed over the contract due to recruitment issues.