Consultant surgeons work in National Health Service hospitals; some consultants may also work in private practice. Consultant surgeons begin their careers as junior hospital trainees and progress through specialised training to reach consultant status. Average salary therefore depends on length of service, qualifications and experience.
The NHS publishes pay scales for doctors in different positions. The pay scale for hospital consultants provides a basic annual salary ranging from £74,504 to £100,446 in 2011-2012, depending on length of service. Pay scales on the website Hospital Dr indicate that consultant surgeons with three years’ experience as a consultant earn a basic salary of £81,502; those with nine years’ experience earn £89,370, rising to £94,911 after 14 years’ experience. Consultants reach the maximum basic salary of £100,446 after 19 years’ experience.
Consultants may also qualify for local or national clinical excellence awards, if they meet the necessary criteria. According to government guidelines, consultants must have completed a minimum of three years’ service as consultants and have received at least four Discretionary Points. Hospital trusts award Discretionary Points for performance, skills or contribution above what would be considered normal for a consultant at a particular grade. The clinical excellence awards scheme progresses in stages with payments ranging from £2,957 to £75,796 for 2011-2012.
Consultant surgeons undergo long periods of training and surgical experience before qualifying as consultants. Following a five-year or six-year degree course in a university medical school, they begin as junior hospital trainees where the basic starting salary is £22,412, according to NHS pay scales for 2011-2012. Consultants who enter junior hospital posts as doctors in specialist training receive a basic starting salary of £29,705. Junior hospital doctors also receive additional payments for working beyond their contracted 40-hour week.
Salaries of consultant surgeons vary by region, according to figures for 2008 to 2011 published on the website My Salary. Average salaries ranged from £102,461 in London to £75,200 in Yorkshire and the North-East. Consultants in the South-East were second in order, earning £96,820, followed by Midlands’ consultants earning £87,420.
Consultant surgeons who treat patients with private medical insurance earn their basic income, or income additional to their NHS pay, from fees for individual operations. The patient pays the surgeon directly and claims any payment from their insurance, if they have a policy. Surgeons who undertake private practice must balance their private work with NHS work. They must also fund the costs of their private practice and special insurances which can absorb almost 60 percent of private income, according to the Royal College of Surgeons.