Chancellor wastes chance to address pensions flaws

by Tim Tonkin

The BMA has labelled yesterday’s Budget as a missed opportunity for reforming doctors’ pensions, warning that failure to do so will undermine efforts to retain NHS staff.

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 28 October 2021
Rishsi Sunak

The assessment came in response to yesterday’s Autumn Budget, which, despite reaffirming a commitment to ensuring 50 million more primary care appointments and a ‘bigger better trained NHS workforce’, made no attempt to address existing punitive tax arrangements being applied to doctors’ pensions.  

The budget, while including some welcome increases in investment in areas such as NHS IT and capital spending, also failed to announce any additional funding for areas such as general practice and public health.

Such omissions, along with the chancellor making no clear commitment to expanding either the NHS or social care workforce, has prompted warnings that the additional funding will not adequately support the health service in the challenges it will face heading into the years ahead.

Missed opportunity

vish sharma SHARMA: Squandered moment

BMA pensions committee chair Vishal Sharma warned that, by not addressing long-standing issues affecting doctors’ pensions, Mr Sunak had squandered a chance at boosting staff retention at a time when the NHS desperately needed to hold on to every doctor it could.

He said: ‘It’s so frustrating to see the chancellor missing an important opportunity to help keep thousands of doctors working in the NHS. He absolutely should have reformed the long-standing issues with pension taxation to avoid affected doctors reducing their working hours or retiring altogether.

‘It’s all very well announcing almost six billion pounds worth of capital investment for the NHS, but without plans to increase staffing or, crucially, to ensure that we retain the doctors we have, the impact on the huge backlog of patients needing care will be minimal.’

Funding unclear

There was also no clear commitment from Mr Sunak on funding needed to increase the number of medical school places or on the funding settlement for Health Education England.

Funding commitments set out by chancellor Rishi Sunak pledge to increase the NHS’s annual budget to £162.6bn by 2024/25 in line with an average real-term growth of 3.8 per cent as called for by the BMA.

The chancellor also committed £9.6bn in funds for the response to COVID-19, money that will enable the continuation of the vaccination programme and roll-out of antiviral treatments.

The Budget pledges £1.5bn towards increasing bed capacity, equipment and surgical hubs and £2.1bn to be invested in IT and digitising the NHS.

However, no additional funding will be allocated to the public health grant despite the effect years of chronic underinvestment have had on services, or towards supporting general practice.