Page last updated at 09:06 GMT, Tuesday, 28 June 2005 10:06 UK

Doctors cash in on new pay deal

GP examining patient
GP average annual earnings has risen from 85,000 to 100,000

Family doctors are earning up to £180 an hour for treating patients in the evening, overnight and at weekends, Scottish health board figures show.

Out-of-hours working has not been a compulsory part of their duties since the start of this year.

The 15 health boards gave the figures to BBC Scotland under the Freedom of Information Act.

They show that one GP in Dumfries and Galloway earned £6,500 for one week's work out-of-hours over Christmas.

Doctors say the pay is comparable with other professions and health boards believe costs will fall.

SCOTTISH GPs' PAY

They have insisted that when other medical staff, including nurses and midwives, take over the duties of GPs out-of-hours, there will be less emphasis on employing doctors.

One midwife, who wished to remain anonymous, told BBC Scotland: "A GP doing a night a week on call will earn £25,000 a year, that is more than a lot of health care professionals will earn full-time plus the on-call during a year.

"I think there should be more effort to put this into the public domain, but the problem is it is too late, everything is signed and sealed, it is history."

I think the GPs are starting to look like the footballers of the health service
Andrew Walker
Health economist

Nearly all mainland Scottish doctors have chosen not to provide out-of-hours care, and now health boards are having to buy back their services at evenings and weekends.

Pay rates are particularly high in rural areas where GPs are in short supply.

One GP in Dumfries and Galloway earned £6,500 for one week's out-of-hours work over Christmas.

During a typical week, one GP in Argyll and Clyde earned an average of nearly £2,000.

Work, life balance

Highland Health Board has revealed that the new system has cost it £4m this year alone.

GP Andrew Buist: "The opportunity to get the balance between work life and social life and do some out of hours work when it suits is attractive.

"That's not just for the younger but the older doctors who could be retained in the profession rather than retire early because they could not face the long hours any more."

Nurses in a group
Nurses could take over some out-of-hours duties

Dr Buist believed the rates - a minimum of £45 an hour up to £180 an hour - were fair compared well with other professions.

Andrew Walker, a health economist at Glasgow University, said: "I think GPs are starting to look like the footballers of the health service.

"We hear about footballers earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a week. The GPs are not quite at that level but certainly to ordinary people, the sums will sound very high.

"I think what people do place at a very high premium is the access to GP out-of-hours.

"This might be the cost of it, the unavoidable cost of providing in the 21st century a medical service out-of-hours, and we might have to swallow this."

Earlier this year, a survey of 10% of GPs suggested that their earnings had risen from an average £85,000 to nearly £100,000.

The Scottish National Party's health spokeswoman, Shona Robison, said: "It seems that some GPs contracted out-of-hours are now naming their price for what they used to do before.

"Some of the figures GPs are demanding are far too high and it is time to consider placing caps on what is acceptable."



SEE ALSO
Patients' check-up on surgeries
27 May 05 |  Scotland
GPs debate out of hours service
29 Apr 04 |  Scotland
New contracts for family doctors
01 Apr 04 |  Scotland

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