Steve Barclay still misleading public about doctors’ pensions and pay

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 19 September 2023
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The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is still misleading the public about doctors’ pensions and the independence of the pay review process in a bid to discredit consultants as they take industrial action.

Steve Barclay today once again repeated the claim that consultants receive an annual pension of £78,000 when they retire at 65 – despite data showing that retired consultants receive on average 40% less than this.

Last month Steve Barclay claimed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that when consultants retire at 65, they receive a “tax-free pension of £73,000 a year”. While the Department of Health and Social Care was forced to correct the record because consultants’ pension benefits are not tax-free – consultants pay income tax like everyone else – the department inexplicably increased the annual figure to £78,000, a number that Mr Barclay continues to use, including on the Today programme once again this morning1.

However, data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act2 now shows that the typical consultant receives far less than this, with the median figure for 2022/23 being around £46,800. This is data that the NHS Business Services Authority previously said it could not provide.

In seeking to correct himself on his tax-free claims this morning, Mr Barclay once again got his facts wrong, by saying he was referring to “the National Insurance position”. However, no pensioner signed up to a registered pension scheme pays National Insurance contributions on their pension benefits, while consultants pay National Insurance contributions on their earnings in the same way as anyone else does.

Meanwhile, with regard to the pay review body process, which the BMA has repeatedly criticised for being controlled by Government, the Secretary of State said it was “factually incorrect” to suggest that the Treasury sets a cap on what the DDRB can recommend for pay uplifts for doctors.

However, the Government imposed caps in seven of the last 13 years and the DDRB’s own terms of reference were changed by the Government in 1998 to state that the pay review body must have regard to both the “Government’s Departmental Expenditure Limits” and the Government’s inflation targets, both of which are arbitrarily determined by Government.

A Conservative MP even admitted earlier this year that the Government “basically rigs” the pay review bodies.

Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee and pensions committee chair said:

“It’s high time the Secretary of State comes clean and apologises for misleading the public.

“Not only did Steve Barclay’s own department have to correct him for wrongly claiming doctors’ pensions are tax-free, but he is continuing to mislead by using vastly inflated figures.

“As we’ve said all along, the numbers Mr Barclay is quoting in no way reflect what a typical consultant can expect to receive in retirement, and these new statistics prove this. Even after this year’s Budget changes consultants won’t receive anything like this.

“To add to this he is categorically wrong to deny the way the Government rigs the pay review system – something one of his own MPs admitted to.

“This is a shameful attempt from the Government to discredit the NHS’s most expert doctors and our fight to fix pay for the profession.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

  1. Steve Barclay said: “The pension that a consultant gets at age 65 is subject to tax, but it is £78,000 a year.”
  2. Data from NHS Business Services Authority shows the mean pension award for consultants, payable from 2022/23, was £48,658.93. Median was £46,776.82.