GPs 'singled out' as pay transparency rules threaten fresh wave of abuse

GPs have been 'singled out' unfairly under government pay transparency rules that risk triggering a fresh wave of abuse against the profession, the BMA has warned.

GPs forced to report earnings (Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images)

Under regulations that took effect from 1 October, GPs and practice employees in England with more than £150,000 in NHS earnings in the 2019/20 financial year are required to declare this income through a national reporting mechanism.

GPs and practice staff in this category have until 12 November to provide the information - and their names will then be published by NHS Digital as part of a government 'pay transparency' initiative.

However, the BMA has condemned the government for 'singling out' GPs for pay transparency - warning the move threatens to expose an already demoralised profession to a fresh wave of abuse. The warnings comes as the BMA polls GPs over action they are prepared to take to challenge abuse - including potentially quitting the NHS.

GP income

Four in five GPs say abuse from patients has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic - a trend that has been linked to sustained criticism of GPs by senior politicians and in the media over access to face-to-face appointments, despite more than half of contacts during the pandemic being in person.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the pay transparency rules for those earning over £150,000 - which apply only in England and will not being implemented in other UK countries - was agreed 'in principle' as part of the five-year GP contract package that took effect from 2019.

He said the agreement in principle had been reached 'on the clear understanding that GPs were not being singled out but that the government would also require other professions such as pharmacists and dentists to publish NHS earnings above a certain figure too'.

However, the government has now 'breached the 2019/20 agreement', according to the BMA - by singling out GPs and failing to impose pay transparency rules on any other staff group.

Contract agreement

Dr Vautrey said: 'We have seen no evidence that the government is keeping its half of the agreement - and are therefore seriously concerned that they have chosen to impose these changes without our agreement and without any similar action being taken to compel other healthcare professionals to do the same.

'Furthermore, this agreement was made pre-pandemic, and general practice is an incredibly different place right now. GP morale is low, practices continue to experience widespread workforce shortages while struggling to manage unsustainable demand, and doctors and their colleagues report rising levels of abuse from patients and certain sections of the media.

'It is unacceptable that a change of this significance is being made when the profession remains in crisis, and by singling out one profession over others risks putting dedicated hardworking GPs at further risk of abuse.'

The reporting process is now an annual requirement, with the income threshold rising by £3,000 a year and the deadline for submitting information moving to 30 April - with a declaration required by that deadline for the financial year that ended around 13 months earlier.

Pay transparency

For the 2020/21 financial year, for example, GPs and practice staff earning over £153,000 have until 30 April 2022 to report; and for 2021/22, those earning over £156,000 have until 30 April 2023 to report.

A BMA update on pay transparency rules last month said the government and NHS England had 'insisted on the inclusion of new pay transparency arrangements for higher earners' as part of the overall GP contract deal - but 'agreed that this should not solely relate to general practice but would be progressed for all those working in the NHS'.

The update said that despite the regulations coming into effect for general practice, 'there are currently no similar proposals for pharmacists, optometrists, dentists, consultants or other doctors in the NHS, anywhere else in the UK'.

It added: 'As such, the government and NHS England have chosen to single out general practice and have breached the 2019/20 agreement. We have not agreed to the change – health ministers have imposed this on the profession.'

The government was approached for comment.

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