Conservative party leadership candidate Liz Truss has said she will “sort out” the problems with doctors’ pensions in a bid to tackle the staff retention crisis, though she has not yet said how she would go about doing this.
Statistics from NHS digital showed a spike in retirements in the three months to April 2022, 50 per cent up on the same period in any of the past five years. The resultant administrative load led to the NHS Business Services Authority falling behind on processing retirements and pension payments for 1,115 members.
The British Medical Association has long been calling for urgent reforms to tackle the staff retention crisis, arguing that the existing tax regime penalises those who might otherwise consider delaying retirement.
It has called for the introduction of late retirement factors into the 1995 scheme, for amendments to the Finance Act, and for the creation of a tax-unregistered scheme like that introduced to tackle staff retention problems in the judiciary.
In a Sky News question-and-answer session on August 4, Truss was asked by an NHS consultant in the audience what she would do to tackle “the relentless pressure of understaffing” in the NHS.
In response, Truss said she would ensure that the £13bn in funding recently allocated to the service was put into social care, in order to alleviate pressure on hospitals. She also pledged to support doctors and nurses by “removing central dictats” and “having fewer layers of management”.
Meanwhile on pensions, she said she had “met a lot of doctors who have gone into retirement because of the specific issues around their pensions”.
“I need to sort that out,” she said.
Industry commentators, though welcoming any discussion of the impact of pensions on the NHS staffing crisis, were hesitant to read too much into the comments until detailed proposals are put forward. Dr Tony Goldstone, national clinical adviser on pay and pensions at the BMA, noted on Twitter that Boris Johnson had similarly pledged to tackle the problem, but had not done so while in office.
“We don't just need nice little sound bites from either candidate saying you will ‘look at’ or even ‘fix’ the problem. We know all too well promises made to ‘fix’ problems made during leadership campaigns don’t always come true, as they didn’t with [Johnson],” Goldstone wrote.
The BMA has been critical of fellow leadership candidate Rishi Sunak for changes to the tapered annual allowance in NHS pensions made during his time as chancellor of the exchequer.
As Pensions Expert reported on August 4, a spokesperson for Sunak said: “As chancellor, Rishi raised the two tapered annual allowance thresholds for pensions by £90,000 to support NHS staff and the delivery of public services.
“This meant that from 2020-21 threshold income will be £200,000. As such, individuals with income below this level will not be affected by the tapered annual allowance, and the annual allowance will only begin to taper down for individuals who also have an adjusted income above £240,000.