Pay announcement creates funding gap for GPs

GPs’ efforts during the pandemic have been ignored by the Government, write BMA GPs committee chair Richard Vautrey and sessional GPs committee chair Ben Molyneux

Location: England
Published: Thursday 22 July 2021
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As we have come to expect from this Government, yesterday’s announcement is not all that it seems. For salaried GPs, a 3% uplift is more than the 1% the Government recommended at the beginning of the year and is the highest uplift they have received in many years. However, 3% does not compensate for the years of pay erosion experienced by all doctors and there is no confirmation that GP partners will be funded to pay it. It is not acceptable to speak of an uplift while refusing to provide the necessary funding to make it possible.

More than 4,200 clinicians and members of the public have written to their MPs calling for action as part of the BMA’s Fairness for the Frontline campaign. Rather than listen to the voices of the frontline, ministers have instead chosen to rob Peter to pay Paul at the expense of patients and all GPs.

As we made clear during the campaign, any award to salaried GPs must be covered by additional funds to enable it, and the Government has failed yet again to do this. Salaried GPs will rightly want to be paid the full uplift announced today; GP partners would expect a similar uplift but will rightly be angered about this outcome and concerned to know where that money will now have to come from and what cuts they will have to make to afford it.

Smoke and mirrors

Even the DDRB acknowledges the need for Government to recognise the work GPs have done during the pandemic, and states: ‘Doctors and dentists for whom we have not been asked to make recommendations this year because they are on multi-year pay deals have also made significant contributions to the pandemic response. Our recommendations do not respond to the impact of the pandemic on recruitment, retention, and motivation of these groups. Recognising the contribution they have made to the pandemic response in this context is extremely important, and we would urge ministers to consider this.’

There is nothing fair about the situation this leaves general practice in. We need more funding, not less, going into general practice, and yesterday’s announcement is nothing more than a cynical attempt by Government to use smoke and mirrors to give the illusion that they have acted when they have done nothing of the sort. The efforts of all GPs during the long hard months of the coronavirus pandemic, the expertise, dedication, and sacrifice they have shown, have been simply ignored by Government. While GP partners secured a multi-year pay deal in 2019, which included a 2.1% uplift for their pay and their staff pay including salaried GPs, the past 18 months have been unlike any other period in our working lives.

The failure to provide additional funding to cover a 3% uplift and the fact that the hard work and sacrifice of GP partners has been completely ignored – in spite of the DDRB recommending they are recognised and that Government should ensure there is no impact on service provision – is unacceptable. This will further damage their morale and demonstrates that the Government does not value them or the partnership model as a whole.

Missed opportunity

Quite simply, without general practice, the vaccination programme would not have been the success it has been, and tens of millions of patients would not have received the care they required. GPs have given their all during the pandemic – some, sadly, at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. And with a growing backlog across the NHS, the pressures that we are facing are unlikely to subside any time soon.

Between 2008/09 and 2018/19 the real-terms value of estimated take-home pay for the average GP partner in England has been cut by more than a quarter (25.7%), while salaried GPs have seen a similar cut (24.6%).

Yesterday’s announcement was an opportunity for ministers to properly reward GPs for the work they do every day, and to begin paying back what they have lost. The Government has missed that opportunity and in the coming days and weeks, we will be considering our next steps.