NHS bungle puts GPs on £1/4m a year


Last updated at 09:12 19 April 2006

Labour was accused of losing control of the Health Service budget last night after it emerged that family doctors are earning up to £250,000 a year.

Ministers have botched the introduction of a new contract for GPs and that is contributing towards a financial black hole in the NHS, critics say.

GPs' wages have risen by about 25 per cent since the Government changed the way they were paid in 2004, and released them from out-of-hours work.

The first survey of pay under the new points-based system suggests average wages are about £100,000. But some are being paid as much as £250,000.

Tony Blair defended the inflation-busting pay rises, saying he was 'proud' that NHS staff were being paid more.

Insisting there was no crisis, the Prime Minister asked: "Is not it actually a good thing that we are paying our people well if they are upping the quality of the service? I think it's good."

The British Medical Association, which negotiated the contract with the Government, said the majority of GPs earned far less than £250,000, with the average wage in England standing at £94,000.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt conceded the Government had under-estimated the contract's cost, pushing the overspend on doctors' salaries to £300million.

Concern is growing over financial deficits in NHS trusts - forecast to have reached £700million - and the announcement of 7,000 job cuts in recent weeks.

Senior Government sources say they are braced for further job losses and dozens Mr Blair conceded of hospital closures.

But in the Commons yesterday, Miss Hewitt said many hospitals were simply reducing their reliance on agency staff.

Under the contract, GPs' pay is largely calculated on points they score for meeting targets.

But many more have hit the targets than the Government expected, upping the wage bill. And last night the Conservatives blamed ministers for the financial difficulties the Health Service faces.

Tory health spokesman Andrew Lansley said: "The Government got it badly wrong. They didn't know what the GPs were doing and when the costs came through it was a third over their estimate, as well as doubling the costs of out-of-hours services.

"The Department of Health's incompetence has directly led to financial crisis."

Two of Tony Blair's closest allies were in charge of the health department when the contract was drawn up.

Alan Milburn was Health Secretary when a deal was struck between the Government and the BMA. John Hutton, who has since been made Work and Pensions Secretary, was a health minister.

Joyce Robins, of campaign group Patient Concern, said: "The BMA did a splendid union deal for its members. It has cost our naive Government hundreds of millions more than they expected. GPs are now paid piecemeal - a few thousand for reaching this target, a few thousand for that.

"It has created an atmosphere where it seems that every time a GP picks up a pen or looks at a computer, it must have a price tag."

Dr Prit Buttar, a GP in Abingdon in Oxfordshire, told BBC Radio 4' s Today programme that partners in his 10,000-patient practice are earning more than £100,000 after expenses - a rise of about 20 per cent from before the contract.

He said his practice now received funds for monitoring cholesterol and blood pressure of patients with heart disease. "It is something that we were doing already," he said.

The £250,000 wage is expected to be revealed in an annual survey by the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants, due to be published next month.

According to the BBC, it will show that GP wages have risen by up to 25 per cent since the contracts were introduced.

A snapshot of 600 practices in the North-East revealed that about one in 60 was earning between £200,000 and £250,000.

The contract has also allowed doctors to opt out of night and weekend work. Although it costs them £6,000 a year, the majority have done so.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs' committee, said average pay was 'way below' £250,000, a figure which would only apply to a few doctors.

"The high income is likely to reflect their business acumen, running huge practices."

Dr Rory McCrea earns about £150,000 a year - and says his salary is still rising. He works two days a week as a GP but is also chairman of a business with a turnover of £5.5million.

ChilversMcCrea Healthcare owns 20 GP practices. Since its foundation in 2001, it has become the biggest single provider of general practice care in the UK.

Dr McCrea, 44, who treats patients in Waltham Abbey, Essex, says his income should rise significantly once the firm stops expanding.

Like any GP surgery, it is paid by the NHS for the patients it treats and the targets it hits.

But as each practice is run by salaried staff, all profits go to the company instead of being shared among partners.

Rejecting criticism that GPs are overpaid, Dr McCrea said: "Health-care is run for profit in many other areas. I have taken a financial risk to do what I am doing. There should be a reward for that."

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now