DOCTORS have branded the £500 "thank you" payment for their services during the pandemic as "embarrassing and not needed".

Highland GPs asked whether the sum, announced by Nicola Sturgeon on Monday at the SNP conference, "is just" when many of their patients have faced reduced earnings, jobs losses or business closures as a result of the pandemic.

In a question raised at the Scottish GP conference they described the payment as "embarrassing and not needed" at a time when low-income families whose children are eligible for free school meals will receive a one-off winter payment of £100 to help alleviate financial hardship.

They said: "Earlier this week, the First Minister announced 'thank you' payments for health and social care staff, and payments to low income households. 

"Hard up families will receive £100, but well-paid doctors, like us, will receive a bonus of £500.

"The £500 bonus came as a surprise to doctors - but it is embarrassing and not needed. Many of our patients have got by on reduced earnings this year, and sadly, many others have lost their jobs and others have lost their businesses.

"Is this just?"

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Their question was put to Health Secretary Jeane Freeman, who delivered the keynote speech at the virtual GP conference which is being hosted online this year.

Ms Freeman defended the £500 payment as a "straightforward thank you" for the hard work of all health and social care staff this year.

She said: "The point of the £500 payment, which will also go to your patients if they work in health and social care roles, is to say thank you.

"It's an indication of a thank you, not a substitute for pay or any other negotiations around that.

"We felt it was an unnecessary tangle to determine which members of our health and social care workforce deserved the payment more than others.

"It is a straightforward thank you, but it's you money and you can do whatever you like with it. I know colleagues who are using it to help charitable organisations."

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The £500 payment has been promised to around 391,000 full-time and part-time NHS and social care staff in Scotland, including students who volunteered to help during lockdown, GP surgery staff and palliative care workers.

The First Minister implored the UK Government "to allow our health and care heroes to keep every penny of Scotland’s thank-you to them", and that none of it should be deducted for tax.

The request has been rejected by the Treasury, who said the income tax would flow back to Scotland and that ministers at Holyrood could increase the size of the bonus to cover the tax and national insurance contributions.

The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) said the lowest-paid workers who receive universal credit could lose up to 75% of the £500 bonus because the extra income would be deducted from their welfare payments.

Glasgow-based economic thinktank, the Fraser of Allander Institute (FAI), said making the bonuses tax-free would "gift higher rate taxpayers a significantly larger tax break" than lower earners, and said the Scottish Government should increase the gross value of the bonus if it wanted employees to get £500 in full.

The institute, which is run by Alex Salmond’s former head of policy Professor Graeme Roy, added that there was a “healthy dose of politics” in the First Minister's tax plea.