Hundreds of senior doctors in Scotland have told the BMA they either have received or anticipate a large tax bill because of punitive changes to pensions arrangements.
Almost 600 doctors responded to a BMA Scotland survey, with almost two thirds – 64.7 per cent – saying they had been hit with such a bill or were actively expecting one.
Worryingly for the health service, more than half said they had reduced their hours, or were planning to do so, to avoid their income breaching pension tax thresholds.
Around four in 10 of the consultants who responded said they had given up waiting-list initiative work, or were planning to do so. A similar proportion of GPs, said they had reduced their hours – including giving up out-of-hours shifts – or were considering doing so.
The figures were released on the same day that Graeme Eunson, a paediatric consultant from the Borders, took over as chair of the BMA Scottish consultants committee. He called for urgent action to address the pension tax issues, and to improve recruitment and retention of doctors in Scotland.
‘I am honoured to have been elected as chair of the Scottish consultants committee but I know I am coming in at a time of great challenges and uncertainty for our profession, our NHS and the people we care for,’ Dr Eunson said.
‘We are facing rising consultant vacancies across Scotland and our figures released today show more and more hard-working senior doctors are being forced to reduce the number of hours they work – or retire completely – in the wake of high and unexpected pension tax bills. It is vitally important that action is taken at all levels to ensure doctors do not continue to be punished financially simply for doing the job they have devoted their entire careers to.’
The survey also revealed that almost a quarter of those who took part were considering retiring early because of the pension tax arrangements, which can see workers charged considerably more in tax than they are actually paid for doing the work.
‘The health secretary and the Scottish Government have acknowledged the issue, taken our concerns on board, and we welcome they have also been pushing the Treasury to act. Recently, the English Department of Health launched new guidance which includes greater flexibility in the pensions scheme. This is a step forward and we desperately need the Scottish Government to act quickly to match or better this offer – which they have indicated they will – and we are pushing them hard to publish the details,’ Dr Eunson added.
‘We are already seeing trusts in England offer this flexibility, and the Scottish health service urgently needs the same. However, the long-term answer to this lies in pensions tax reform which is the responsibility of the Treasury. As our figures show today, this situation is impacting on doctors and care now. We cannot afford to wait any longer for solutions to be put in place, or we will go on losing vital capacity from the workforce.’
Read the full survey results
Dr Eunson pointed to BMA Scotland’s recently published vision for secondary care, which highlights the need for better working conditions for doctors, better funding for the NHS and a concerted drive on recruitment and retention.
‘I have long-standing concerns about the number of consultant vacancies in Scotland that do not look like they will be remedied any time soon,’ he added.
‘Indeed, recent figures showed an 18 per cent increase in just the last year. It will be one of my top priorities as chair of [the BMA Scottish consultants committee] to push the Scottish Government to give secondary care the level of attention it requires to provide the high-quality care the people of Scotland need and deserve. Working together constructively I really believe that goal is within our reach.’
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