MPs call NHS pensions issue ‘national scandal’ as doctors forced to leave

MPs call NHS pensions issue ‘national scandal’ as doctors forced to leave

The Health and Social Care committee has called NHS pension arrangements ‘a national scandal’ as senior doctors are being forced to reduce their hours or stop work entirely.

In a report called Workforce: recruitment, training and retention in health and social care, published today (July 25), the committee said it heard evidence of senior medical staff both reducing their hours and retiring earlier than they would otherwise because of concerns about pensions.

Referencing a recent survey by the Royal College of Surgeons of England, it found that 69 per cent of respondents had reduced the amount of time they spent working in the NHS as a direct result of changes to pension taxation rules.

In 2019, the Royal College of Physicians found that more than 50 per cent of the 2,800 doctors surveyed had retired earlier than previously planned, with most citing pensions concerns as a reason.

The committee said: “It is a national scandal that senior doctors are being forced to reduce their working contribution to the NHS or to leave it entirely because of NHS pension arrangements. 

“We accept the government has made some progress in this direction with changes to the taper rate of the annual allowance. But the problem persists and having rejected calls to establish a tax unregistered scheme the government must act swiftly to establish an alternative scheme and prevent the early retirement of consultants from the NHS.”

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned that without decisive action on pensions, more than 10 per cent of the consultant workforce, and a similar proportion of GPs, are likely to retire within the next 18 months.

University Hospital of North Midlands NHS Trust consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Wayne Jaffe, described his retirement as happening “almost against his will” in the context of “a cull of senior doctors” faced with “unfair and punitive additional taxes which I have to pay each year because of my seniority.”

The committee said Jaffe was “paying tens of thousands of pounds additional tax each January due to pension growth".

The committee recommended a number of actions the government should take to prevent “haemorrhaging senior staff”. 

The report recommended the NHS commit that within 12 months, all regular NHS staff should be able to opt for similar flexibilities to those enjoyed by locum or agency staff. 

This should include making reduced or flexible hours available to everyone, but especially those with caring responsibilities and those nearing retirement, with increased flexibility for home working using technology.

It said NHSE should develop a national NHS “retire and return” policy to replace ad hoc local schemes, which should include greater flexibility in the role that more senior members of the workforce can play, including around late-night and on-call working. 

The report said: “Clearly, the government’s changes to tax regulations have not gone far enough to remedy this crisis.