Timing remains crucial in the pay talks

As with many things in life, timing is everything.

When it comes to pay talks it remains to be seen if it has gone against the GPC this week.

Over the past 10 days or so, announcements about GP income have been appearing at the rate of the proverbial buses - barely have we had time to absorb one set of figures when another is overtaking us.

First there were the absolutely, definitely, final GP pay figures for 2005/6 - back in the days when the GMS contract was still new and shiny, and general practice still saw at least an inflationary uplift. This gave the average GP an income (including private and dispensing earnings) of £110,004. The effects of non-NHS earnings were of course ignored in the subsequent headlines.

On the back of these figures, NHS Employers submitted its NHS pay evidence for 2008/9 to the Review Body, stating that no one in the NHS should receive more than a 2 per cent rise.

Then it was the turn of the BMA, which called for rises of between 3.6 and 4.3 per cent. Its evidence picked out GPs in particular as in need of consideration following the income freeze of recent years.

What could be of help to the BMA in this round of negotiations is any profit data from 2006/7, showing the effects of the freeze. And indeed these have begun to emerge this week, with more than one specialist medical accountant reporting an average profits drop of 6 per cent to 7 per cent.

In isolation this is a useful figure to present to NHS Employers and the Review Body - a serendipitous piece of timing. However, most of the data so far available are for the traditionally higher-earning practices in the south of England, which despite the drop still produce profits of £117,120. A figure ripe for spinning by the 'fat cat GP' lobby.

The GPC needs to gather as much feedback from accountants as possible in order to present as rounded a picture as possible on GP income.

Otherwise there may be ridicule for claiming that £117,000 is an income drop from £110,000.

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