GPs working in some of the most deprived parts of Scotland are boosting their salaries using money that is supposed to help patients, it has been claimed.
A study carried out by Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), suggests that some GPs have boosted their earnings to more than £300,000 a year.
The research has yet to be published but its main findings were revealed in a letter to Andrew Scott, the Scottish Government’s director for primary care, which was leaked to the Herald newspaper.
The letter was written by the study’s author Dr Helene Irvine, a consultant in public health medicine at NHSGGC, who also claimed ministers had a “desire to suppress” the findings.
Her research relates to so-called “Deep End” GP practices, which are based in Scotland’s poorest areas and receive extra taxpayer funding to tackle health inequalities linked to poverty.
It found that over the past decade, the pensionable incomes of GP partners show that those earning the most are consistently concentrated in practices in socially deprived areas.
One GP who features in the research was reportedly earning more than £300,000 in pre-tax personal income in 2010 – more than three times the salary of the average full-time Scottish GP.
“There is no logical explanation for that correlation given that the additional funding for deprivation is given to help GPs provide a service,” Dr Irvine wrote.
“The work also shows much wider variation in pensionable income per partner at the deprived end than the affluent end, with some ‘deprived GPs’ earning very modest sums and some ‘deprived GPs’ earning a lot by anyone’s standards.
“This analysis suggests that GPs who work in deprived practices are a mixture of those committed to offering a good service using their own incomes; and GPs who focus on minimising their expenses and maximising their profit.”
The study’s findings prompted calls for Scotland to introduce greater transparency among GPs. In England, practices are required to publish the average earnings of partners.
Dr Alan McDevitt, chair of the British Medical Association’s Scottish GP committee, said the new contract agreed by doctors with the Scottish Government last month would allow information on GPs’ earnings and expenses to be collected nationally for the first time.
He added: “This will inform negotiations on phase two of the contract and the variation in GP income will be a part of these discussions, with the intention of reaching agreement to move to an income scale that is comparable to consultants.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Our research, published last year, showed there was significant variation in GP pay around Scotland.
“The new contract, which was voted for overwhelmingly by the BMA, will ensure that from April 2019 a minimum income guarantee of £80,430 will be put in place.”