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How Much Do Surgeons Make In The UK? (Real Figures)

How Much Do Surgeons Make In The UK? (Real Figures)

Updated on: December 20, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

As far as different types of doctors go, surgeons have a bit of a reputation for being some of the highest earners in medicine.

So, for a doctor working in the UK, how much could they expect to make as a surgeon?

A surgeon working in the UK could expect to earn anywhere from £40,000-£120,000+. A surgeon’s salary in the NHS depends on their training grade, their seniority, and whether or not they choose to take on any private work. Private work is where the top-paid surgeons will make the majority of their income.

Because of how many different types of surgeon there are, how many different years of experience they can have and how many different ways they can choose to split their time, there is no one exact answer for how much a surgeon makes.

In this article, I’m going to dig a bit more into what affects a surgeon’s earnings as well as what you can aim for if your goal is to become a top-paid surgical consultant.

How Much Do Surgeons Earn In The UK?

To initially keep things simple, lets first only consider the earnings of consultant surgeons.

These are surgeons who are fully qualified- they’ve completed an 8-10 year training pathway after graduating from medical school and now hold a top position in the medical pecking order.

An NHS surgeon’s base pay is in fact exactly the same as a respiratory consultant’s pay or a cardiologist’s pay.

All consultants in the NHS are on pretty much the same pay scale regardless of their specialty.

Barring slight variations in contracts for doctors who were consultants prior to 2003, their base pay looks like this:

Years Completed As A ConsultantSalary
Starting point£88,364
1 year£91,131
2 years£93,898
3 years£96,665
4 years£99,425
9 years£105,996
14 years£112,569
19 years£119,133

Now, this won’t necessarily reflect exactly what a surgeon at each level would take home, as increased amounts of out-of-hours work or on-calls result in extra pay, but it will give you a rough idea of where their starting point is.

Certain specialties will require surgeons to undertake more on-calls than others.

For example, a general surgeon will often have to cover more weekend/night shifts compared to an ENT surgeon, so as a result would have a higher starting salary.

See how surgeons’ pay compares to other doctors’ pay here.

Where the top-earning surgeons make their real money, however, is through private work- which is what we’re going to look at next…

Private Surgeon Vs NHS Surgeon Earnings

Private work can be incredibly lucrative for surgeons.

Patients are able to skip sometimes years-long waiting lists and have their operation performed by one of the leading experts in the field… while the surgeon is able to charge accordingly for the privilege.

As an example, private cataract removal could cost you anywhere from £3,000 to £5,000 per eye.

By working privately, a surgeon can easily take their salary from £100,000 to £250,000+.

While there are some surgeons who exclusively work privately, the majority of surgeons in fact simply supplement their NHS pay with a bit of private work on the side.

Two surgeons and a nurse performing a thoracoscopy

This lets them continue to keep their ‘eye in’ as it were with some more complex conditions and patients whilst also drastically increasing their take-home pay.

This is because most privately performed surgery is for relatively simple conditions with relatively well patients.

For example, an uncomplicated hip replacement for a generally fit and active grandma (at a cost of £10,000-£15,000).

In the NHS however, surgeons will come across far sicker patients who may have multiple other medical conditions contributing to their condition.

By continuing to work in the NHS, the surgeon is able to keep up their skills in dealing with these trickier customers but also reap the rewards of being a highly skilled medical practitioner.

It’s up to the individual surgeon where they want to set this balance between NHS and private work.

How Much Do Surgical Trainees Make?

Everything we’ve looked at so far has been for surgical consultants- which is where you’ll get to at the end of your training pipeline.

However, surgical training is not a short pathway.

You can expect to spend approximately 10 years after medical school in a ‘training’ role before being able to claim one of the top job positions as a consultant surgeon.

Find out exactly what the path to becoming a surgeon looks like here.

So, considering you’ll spend such a significant amount of time as a ‘trainee,’ how much you’re earning in this period can be pretty important.

Training GradeYears After Medical SchoolSalary
Foundation Year 11£29,384
Foundation Year 22£34,012
Core Surgical Training 1-23-4£40,257
Surgical Specialty Training 3-55-7£51,017
Surgical Specialty Training 6-88-10£58,398

As a quick side note, after completing core surgical training (2 years), you enter into surgical specialty training as an ST3, a.k.a. a specialty trainee in their third year of training, as opposed to starting back at 1.

Just like the consultants’ pay, these figures won’t necessarily be exactly what a doctor of each grade would take home due to the differing amounts of salary uplift depending on the quantity of out-of-hours shifts.

Surgical trainees will generally find themselves doing a lot of shifts during unsocial hours so can find their take-home pay is significantly more than the figures listed.

Surgical trainees can’t do independent private work as such i.e. they can’t individually do someone’s hip replacement on their own, but they can earn additional income by assisting in private operations.

Many operations actually require more than one surgeon to perform- so a consultant with a private practice may ask one of their trainees if they’d like to assist them some days for a bit of extra money.

What Are The Highest Paid Surgical Specialties?

Despite the fact surgeons do often earn more than their medical colleagues, not every surgical specialty has the same earning potential.

The highest-paid surgical specialties include neurosurgery, trauma and orthopaedics, and plastic surgery. However, the salary of a top surgeon will depend more on what ratio of NHS to private work they perform rather than their particular base specialty.

When it comes to the highest-paid surgical specialties, it’s really all to do with the market for private operations in that field.

Considering every surgeon will earn roughly the same working in the NHS, it’s their private work that will start to differentiate their salaries.

Far more people want private knee replacements compared to prostate resections, so orthopaedic surgeons generally earn more than urological surgeons!

There really isn’t a huge amount of data available on surgeons’ from different specialties earnings, so I’ve had to put this table together from some US survey data- but the trends will still likely hold true for UK surgeons.

RankingSurgical Specialty
1Neurosurgery
2Plastic surgery
3Orthopaedics
4ENT
5Urology

This is by no means the be-all and end-all of rankings, but rather my best approximation of amalgamating a few different surveys that I researched.

At the end of the day, the reality is any consultant surgeon has huge earning potential!

Whether they choose to try and maximise that by setting up their own private practice or prefer just to work in the NHS is up to them.

As I say, I’d suggest it’s this personal choice of private vs public work that a surgeon undertakes that will have a far greater impact on their earnings than exactly what type of surgeon they are.

Final Thoughts

There’s no denying that surgeons make a good living.

Their advantage over many of their medical colleagues is their ability to set up a private practice to offer fast-track operations to patients who are willing to foot the bill.

That being said, not every surgeon does choose to work privately.

In which case, they’ll be on the same NHS pay spine as any other doctor.

I really wouldn’t recommend trying to become a surgeon just because of the money, but if you’re leaning that way anyway then it must certainly make a nice bonus!

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.