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Pension flexibilities are ‘sticking plaster’ that won’t stop doctors reducing hours, says BMA

Proposed flexibilities to the NHS Pension Scheme are a “sticking plaster” solution that won’t solve the current pension crisis, which is forcing senior doctors to turn down work or consider retiring early, the British Medical Association says today.

Publishing its response1 to the Government’s consultation on pension flexibilities2, launched last month, the doctors’ union says that the proposed changes are a much-needed but temporary mitigation against the present issue. Only fundamental tax reform, the BMA states, will solve the problem.

The BMA has been leading the campaign against changes to pension legislation introduced in 2016 which mean that doctors are finding themselves facing large and often unexpected bills relating to their pensions3.

A BMA survey published in August4 found that thousands of GPs and hospital consultants have reduced their working hours, and thousands more are planning to cut back because of the changes.

In response to the Government’s consultation, which proposes allowing staff and employers to reduce the amount they pay into their pension pots, the BMA says:

  • The effect of pension changes is having a catastrophic impact on patients and the NHS as doctors are forced to stop doing overtime.
  • Flexibilities can only be supported as a temporary fix if the employer’s contribution is “fully recycled” back to the doctor – ie if an employer is only paying 20% of their usual contribution into a doctor’s pension, they should pay the remaining 80% back to the doctor as part of their salary.
  • Without compulsory recycling, any flexibilities represent a real-terms pay cut.
  • The perverse implications of the current pensions taxation legislation can only be addressed by changes to the pension tax system – in scrapping the Annual and Tapered Annual Allowance.

Dr Paul Youngs, BMA pensions committee chair, said:

“These perverse rules have for too long meant that doctors are being forced to turn down vital extra shifts caring for patients in our under-pressure hospitals and GP surgeries because they would be literally paying to go to work.

“Doctors are trapped in a dilemma between wanting to care for patients and not wanting to end up financially worse off.

“While the proposals in this consultation from the DHSC offer short-term mitigations, they are merely a sticking plaster that fail to address the crux of the problem. Only by scrapping the damaging Annual and Tapered Annual Allowance will the Government stem the flow of doctors refusing additional work or considering leaving the profession over the issue. This lies with the Treasury.

“Furthermore, any flexibilities without insisting that employers fully recycle their contributions back to the employee is worthless. During their career, a doctor’s pension forms a vital part of their reward package, and we cannot support what is effectively a pay cut for our colleagues.

“We urge the Government to get a grip on this issue immediately. As we approach Brexit day and the onset of winter – themselves presenting their own threats to the NHS and its patients – we cannot afford to be without the skills and expertise of our most experienced doctors.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a 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. Read the full response here.
  2. Find the DHSC’s consultation here.
  3. More information on the changes and the BMA’s work can be found here.
  4. Full details here.

For further information please contact:

British Medical Association, BMA House, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9JP
Telephone: 020 7383 6448 
Email: [email protected]
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