Are British Doctors Paid Too Much?

26 February 2013

I knew that British doctors are well-paid but unti I saw, via Kevin Drum, this chart I had no idea they were so much better-paid than most of their peers in the western world.  This is culled from a 2004 OECD report (Pdf) and all figures are in PPP-adjusted dollars.

Of course, doctors received significant pay increases during the Blair years. Specialists were not treated as kindly as (well-trained) GPs but even their wages increased by more than 30% in real terms.

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Which is fine. The constituency demanding pay cuts for doctors is very small. Nevertheless, these charts (which are not, I think, outdated in any significant sense) are worth recalling next time doctors try suggesting they are hard done by.

Indeed, though in some respects – or at least according to some measurements – the NHS has become more efficient in the last 15 years (especially in England and Wales) one wonders if patients feel the performance of their GP has improved anything like as quickly as GPs’ pay has increased?

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  • Paul

    I had a skin problem one put me on antibiotic cream fucibet for a yellow crust she thought it was evidence of infection this i later found out was dried lymph fluid all that training no knowledge of basics, all that money they get and don’t deserve.

  • Shahzad Alikhan

    What a stupid article by a lazy journalist – the figures are out of date, reference is made to “doctors” , but then only mentions “GPs” and “specialists” (?consultants), excluding the majority of “doctors” who are not GPs or specialists ; just another pointless anti-doctor rant.

  • Goodness_Me

    Our priorities are all screwed up in the UK.

    We spend a mere 9% or so of the GDP on healthcare, a low figure compared to most other developed economies, and most of that money comes (often grudgingly) from taxpayers. What that taxpayer-funded healthcare service, aka the NHS, offers is astonishingly comprehensive compared to what people get elsewhere in the world, and most of our brethren elsewhere around the world have to spend a significant proportion of their lives worrying about how they are going to find the cash to pay for healthcare services, and figure out for themselves who to hire to provide those services for them.

    I the UK, at the moment, you just have to turn up if you are sick and you will get treated. If you are not unwell enough to need urgent acute care, then you get on the conveyor belt to see your GP (each of whom has a list of thousands of patients they have to provide services for).

    I am not an apologist for the service, but just take a look around the world and see what you personally could get for the same financial outlay elsewhere – and it will be horseburgers rather than prime steak. Austrians, for example, personally pay top-up insurance, and expend 11% of their GDP on healthcare (

    Which leads me on to remumeration for the people who provide the services. It seems OK to pay bankers and financial wizz kids vast sums of money, whether as salaries or as bonuses – and these guys walk away when they mess things up, leaving others to cover the cost of the mess created, have no discernible code of ethics, and apparently no wider loyalties other than to their own wallets. On the other hand, the income of doctors – which never ever comes remotely near what the financial boys get – is only handed over begrudgingly, and because of the total dominance of the NHS they have few other options to earn a living as a doctor other than to emigrate overseas.

    Do they really earn more than other doctors in similar countries around the world? – take a look at this recent article from Ireland for example – – and compare it with the openly published salaries of UK doctors (

    In addition, UK NHS doctors pay out large sums of their own money to pay for personal medical indemnity (e.g.,, one of the functions of which is to ensure that if someone wins a legitimate financial claim against a doctor because of their own professional actions that person will be properly remunerated (compare that with the financial industry’s walk away and let the taxpayer pick up the tab policy). In many countries, if you sue a doctor you won’t get a penny.

    Oddly, most doctors seem to love it despite everything.

    Ask yourself what should a reasonable person be spending their money on? Contemplate who you will rely on to sort you or loved ones out when you are sick, as you always will be one day – sickness and death are inevitabilities, not options. Try getting your TB treated, your bowel cancer removed, your complicated twin pregnancy delivered safely into the world, your kidney dialysis undertaken, by someone armed with an MBA rather than with an MD. If you do want to rely on the NHS to do all that for you, you really need to take a look at whether or not a policy of continuous denigration of the people who work in it will ensure you get the best results when you need them.

    The UK gets its medical care on the cheap, and seems to expect the earth.

    By way of contract, iIt must be acknowledged that the UK’s private medical industry (which is NOT the NHS) may not have lived up to these high ideal in recent years – see–avoid-paying-millions-1-700-victims.html. Doctors who spend all their time in the NHS – and there are many – can hardly be blamed for that.

  • welshdai

    Wee John Reid the Glasgow insurance man then health secretary along with his then labour stooges gave British and immigrant doctors huge pay rises by mistake?

  • David Webb

    What are the 2013 figures? It’s pointless publishing an article about 2004. When was the year GP salaries doubled? Was that before or after 2004. Talk about sloppy journalism.

  • AJ

    Hahaha you’re all morons.

  • fama

    Spin using outdated figures, most doctors haven’t seen a pay rise for the past 4-5 years, whilst inflation skyrockets. With the pay freeze, inflation, rising pension contributions, loss of free accommodation and restrictions in the out of hours pay bands; the real term PAY CUT is actually in the order of 20-30%.

    Doctors are easy targets though, especially in times like these. Expect to see doctors as scapegoats for the failure of the commissioning system in the next few years…

  • zanzamander

    Does the above remuneration figure include pension contributions paid by the government on behalf of the doctors, which could be anything additional above £35k.

    My doctor has a list of ailments for which he will not see any patients. Surgery rules dictates that I can only see him for one complaint at a time and he cannot spend more than 8 minutes with me.

    It is money for old rope.

    • dapplegrey

      For what ailments will your doctor not see patients?

  • AndrewMelville

    A free market in health with user fees would soon sort that out.

  • Badly Done Emma

    There are good and bad doctors and nurses of course. Like teachers everyone knows who they are but they are incredibly difficult to get rid of and few do anything about it. Most GPs are very hard working and stay writing referrals until late in the evening. When a colleague is off locum replacements are useful only up to a point – they don’t know the practice or the patients. The responsibility is huge. There is a crisis in the NHS and more money won’t help – not in the long term. It’s like giving methadone to pregnant mothers – so ridiculously stupid. Give them sliding morphine instead, cheaper at 10p a dose, and kinder to babies. Sorry off message there!

  • Eddie

    Yes they are, as are nurses. The increase in pay has eaten up most extra government money for the health service, it seems.
    Moreover, both the BMA and the nurses union are programmed to always support doctors and nurses – and they do not ever want any doctor or nurse to be sacked. I even heard a nurses union rep saying ‘there’s no such thing as bad nurses, only nurses who need more training’.
    Some nurses are good; many are not and lack compassion and competency. They do it for the money, basically. And why not? It pays really well.
    Also, in some regions the pay for doctors and nurses is huge. In South Wales, for example, a young nurse with very basic qualifications earnes the average salary of mid-20s in thousands, Many mature men and women earn that in the private sector after many years’ exprerience!
    It is all an utter scam.
    We need a pay freeze or a pay cut – with regional pay perhaps. And we need to get something back for the pay rises these people have been given – there must be strings attached and incompetent nurses and doctors muct be able to be sacked.

  • LB

    GPs but even their wages increased by more than 30% in real terms. Which is fine


    40,000 AVOIDABLE deaths a year in the NHS, according to the BMJ.

    Rewards for failure.

  • the baracus

    And given that they get so much money, why is it that you can only get an appointment on 5 out of 7 days a week?

    I can go to most shops and buy stuff, and even go to my vet, but if I need a Doctor’s appointment on Saturday, I am bang out of luck.

    If I were in any other Western European country this would not happen and before any moans that you have to pay in Europe, I would add that we pay here as well in tax.
    As there is no link between payment and service, we get terrible service.

    Those that believe the NHS is fantastic are delussional, and should try living in Austria for example.

  • Ewan

    “which are not, I think, outdated in any significant sense” – these figures are almost a decade old. As anyone with even a passing familiarity with the issue knows there has been a significant and ongoing reduction in the remuneration of British doctors in the intervening period via pay freezes, pension reforms and alterations to GP funding.

    • LB

      Freeze – not a reduction. Pure spin.

      Where’s the 30% increase in performance? None. Time I think for a 30% pay cut.

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