BMA warns of effect of pensions storm on NHS workforce

The BMA has warned the Chancellor of the Exchequer that doctors will reduce their NHS working hours unless there is tangible reform to the NHS pension scheme. 

In the latest of several letters to the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, the BMA says current pension and tax rules are creating a ‘perfect storm’ in the NHS workforce, forcing senior consultants to reduce their hours, retire early or leave the health service to avoid disproportionately large additional tax charges. 

The letter paints a stark picture of how existing tax and pension regulations may drive out some of the most skilled and experienced clinicians in the health service, with serious consequences for  patient care and a damaging knock-on effect to the future sustainability of the NHS.    

Commenting Dr Rob Harwood, BMA chair, consultant committee said: “It cannot be right that doctors working extra hours to reduce waiting lists or cover rota gaps are then hit with additional tax bills greater than the value of the extra hours worked.  Given the refusal of both the Government and NHS employers to take steps to rectify or mitigate this, it is now our responsibility to inform our members that current regulations, particularly the Annual Allowance and Tapered Annual Allowance, are disproportionately and unfairly impacting them. Unless action is taken, our only option is to reduce the amount of time we work for the NHS, which will through no fault of our own, be detrimental to our patients and to the country’s health service – exactly what the BMA has been trying to avoid.” 

“Having written to the Chancellor several times on this matter, we are disappointed the Government has neither listened to us or advanced any proposals of its own to address the urgent issues we highlight, or even to acknowledge the solutions we recommend.”

“The BMA has always sought constructive dialogue with the Government and NHS employers and has taken every opportunity of making clear the grave threat faced by the health service to those who have both the power and responsibility to effect change. The Government’s window of opportunity is closing fast, and we urge the Chancellor a final time to make reform of pensions taxation an immediate priority. Action is needed now, before doctors are compelled, by these punitive rules, to reduce their working hours or quit the health service. Doctors are facing the very real prospect of effectively working for no pay and that is untenable.”

“We believe that there needs to be a fundamental review of current pensions taxation legislation. While we understand that this is unlikely to happen quickly, we remain deeply concerned that once this information is more widely known, there will be a massive loss of capacity within the NHS.”

BMA members have also sent over 1600 letters to MPs on the inequity of current pensions rules, but the responses received so far reveal a worrying refusal to acknowledge the reality faced by individual doctors and the wider NHS.