Almost two thirds (61 per cent) of consultant surgeons have been advised to cut overtime to limit potential pension tax bills, according to latest research.
According to a survey of 1,890 members of the Royal College of Surgeons of England financial or legal advisers are telling surgeons to not participate in waiting list reduction initiatives as well as to retire early.
The NHS waiting list in England stands at a record 4.41m. In August 2019, more than 660,000 patients were waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment, including surgery, the professional body stated.
Tackling the waiting list backlog has traditionally been achieved through waiting list initiatives, whereby surgical teams undertake extra work, often during weekends, the RCS added.
But among the consultant surgeons who undertook extra operating sessions in the past year to reduce surgical waiting lists, two thirds (66 per cent) said they will not take on extra sessions this year.
Overall, the research showed 68 per cent of consultant surgeons were considering early retirement because of the pensions tax situation, while a similar percentage (69 per cent) had reduced the amount of time they spent working in the NHS as a direct result of changes to pension taxation rules.
It emerged in December that the number of members leaving the NHS Pension Scheme was five times higher than that seen by other public pension funds, most likely because of the taper on the annual allowance.
Introduced in 2016, the tapered annual allowance gradually reduces the allowance for those on high incomes, meaning they are more likely to suffer an annual tax charge on contributions and a lifetime allowance tax charge on their benefits.
The taper means that for every £2 of adjusted income above £150,000 a year, £1 of annual allowance will be lost.
FTAdviser reported in August that HM Treasury will be reviewing the impact of the tapered annual allowance, after doctors had been campaigning to scrap it for months.
A new consultation on the rules of the NHS Pension Scheme was published in September, which included a proposal to allow members to choose a personalised pension growth level at the start of each tax year.
Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, warned the impact of the pension tax rule changes on waiting times for surgery was devastating.
He said: “Surgeons who have previously done many hours of extra work to help reduce waits, are cutting back their hours. Many are considering early retirement.
“Patients already face overly long waits for operations. Persisting with a tax system that punishes clinicians for taking on extra work, will undoubtedly lead to a further deterioration in waiting times.”
Stella Vig, Royal College of Surgeons of England Council member and a clinical director at Croydon University Hospital, added: “It’s only fair to know how much tax you will have to pay if you work extra shifts.
"The NHS pensions scheme has created a ‘tax trap’, where accepting an extra shift can lead to a large and entirely unpredictable tax bill landing in the post many months later.