Thursday, January 19, 2006

Doctors' Pay

Leaks from the Treasury suggest that family doctors are the new plutocrats:

"GPs and hospital consultants have benefited from new contracts. The Treasury figures suggest that GPs earn £80,000 a year, consultants about the same."

Not only is that an envy-inducing 57 grand more than the average Briton earns, but more specifically, say HMT, it's a lot more than other European doctors get. German GPs for example receive only just over £60,000.

And so doctors cannot expect more than a 1% increase in their next pay award. CPO Commissar Hewitt has written to Michael Blair, QC, the chairman of the review body to tell him so. As she puts it:

“We have always known that after 2008, when we will effectively have eliminated waiting lists and got to the European average on healthcare funding, we won’t need the same level of unprecedented funding. That also means we have got to make sure that we continue to improve the NHS and get even better value for taxpayers from these unprecedented funds that are going in.”

Great news about waiting lists of course (!), but the docs are crying foul. BMA chairman, James Johnson, said the government was "seeking to undermine the established process by which evidence is considered, and will provoke anger and further disenchantment among [BMA] members. These government recommendations are a kick in the teeth for doctors."

And the NHS Blog Doctor is spitting blood.

So who's right?

First, it is quite clear that medical practitioners have been enjoying some chunky pay increases lately. According to the official Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, their average gross pay was £69,527 in April 2005, up by 24% over the previous 12 months. And 20% of them earned over £106,000.

Second, it seems that the government made a total horlicks of renegotiating doctors' contracts as part of those notorious NHS "reforms". In order to buy acceptance of targets etc, they gave away the store (again, see NHS Doc- especially the comments).

But what should we conclude? Yes, we know the BMA is a trade union, and there are doubtless all kinds of restrictive practices, but you can't get away from the fact that doctoring is a demanding highly skilled job, with a lengthy training period. It is perfectly arguable that their original pay was too low. After all, Britain has long had a serious shortage of doctors.

The fact is that doctors' pay- like that of public servants generally- is administratively determined, rather than being left to the market. As a result it tends to move in fits and starts, driven by the exigencies of the political cycle. Today's "fat years" are no more than a counterpart to all those preceeding "lean years".

This Treasury leak is a classic piece of dirty spinmeistering designed to turn public and media opinion against doctors just as they go into pay negotiations. Even though it is those same doctors who are absolutely vital to the delivery of the improved NHS the government has been promising so long.

The government is handing out record-breaking pay to doctors with one hand, and undermining their morale and trust with the other. No wonder all that money is producing such disappointing results. Pay- one more reason why the politicians should be taken out of healthcare.

PS As for those German doctors the government reckons are so content on their 60 grand...well, according to Pravda (no, really), "Thousands of doctors some in their white hospital coats, others wrapped in thick jackets amid steady snowfall, marched from a Berlin hotel to a Health Ministry building, carrying banners with slogans including "Money gone, doctor gone" and calling for Health Minister Ulla Schmidt to resign." Seems they want more pay, and a reduction in bureaucracy. Hmm...maybe that German healthcare model is not quite all it's cracked up to be.

Pic: Grinning Planet

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