The row over NHS pensions escalated last night as doctors warned that a Government plan to solve the crisis was ‘certain to fail’.
Hospital waiting lists have soared in recent months as thousands of consultants and GPs are refusing to work overtime to avoid a punitive tax on their pensions.
Yesterday it emerged that one in three senior doctors are being affected as the Health Secretary unveiled a long-awaited plan aimed at ‘fixing’ the crisis.
The row over NHS pensions escalated last night as doctors warned that a Government plan to solve the crisis was ‘certain to fail’
But doctors immediately criticised Matt Hancock’s offer of a 12-week consultation on a more flexible pension scheme.
The British Medical Association said the only solution is to scrap the tax on pensions altogether.
And health service leaders warned the NHS ‘could not afford’ a lengthy consultation, which risks putting thousands more patients in jeapordy.
New rules mean GPs and consultants can be hit with tax rates of up to 90 per cent if they earn more than £110,000 a year, including any rises in their total pension value.
It means they are cutting back on any overtime or weekend work as they can be taxed thousands for earning a penny over the threshold.
This has caused hospitals to reduce their services, with some cases of cancer missed as a backlog of scans builds up.
Yesterday it emerged that one in three senior doctors are being affected as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled a long-awaited plan aimed at ‘fixing’ the crisis
Addressing the crisis yesterday, Mr Hancock said: ‘Too many of our most experienced clinicians are reducing their hours, or leaving the NHS early because of frustrations over their pension.
‘I want them to know that I am listening and I want to work with them to fix it for the sake of patients.
‘We want to make it easier for our hardworking senior doctors to balance their workload, their pension pot and their tax bill – with more flexibility, more choice, and less need to pay upfront.’
He launched a three-month consultation on changes to the scheme. It proposes a 50:50 solution – meaning doctors can halve their pension contributions in exchange for halving the rate of pension growth.
‘Around a third of NHS consultants and GP practice partners have earnings from the NHS that could potentially lead to them being affected by the tapering annual allowance,’ the document said.
However, doctors warned thousands more patients may have been put in jeopardy without urgent reform.
Chairman of the BMA consultants committee, consultant anaesthetist Dr Rob Harwood, said: ‘Doctors need to be able to return to doing the additional work they had routinely undertaken in the past.’
He warned that Mr Hancock’s plan was not flexible enough and said the ‘only real solution’ is for the limits on tax-free pension allowance to be scrapped immediately.
NHS figures revealed that staff numbers have risen in GP practices in recent months but the past three years has seen a decline in doctors despite a Government pledge
Dr Harwood said: ‘A 50:50 approach would be a substantial pay cut for GPs and hospital doctors, and – with such an unattractive offer – almost certain to be set to fail.
‘This consultation does little other than add to the intolerable dilemma facing many doctors – a commitment to their patients put in jeopardy by these ridiculous taxes which are forcing doctors to effectively pay to go to work.’
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, said: ‘We welcome the government’s efforts to solve the NHS pensions problem, however this consultation will need to come up with a fast response to what is an immediate and major problem for the NHS and the wider public sector.
‘It is already clear that the one proposal at the front and centre of this consultation does not go far enough to address this problem, which is now having an impact on NHS performance and patient care.’
The consultation was launched as doctors were offered a 2.5 per cent pay rise, backdated to April this year.
However, some top doctors complained this payrise will backfire as it will simply push them over the threshold and mean they are hit with hefty tax bills.
The BMA said: ‘Many senior doctors’ income is being significantly impacted by the punitive pension taxation, so this low pay rise merely adds to the overall position of doctors being undervalued and effectively paying to go to work.’
MORE THAN 700 GP SURGERIES COULD CLOSE BY 2023
More than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, experts revealed in November.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said 762 practices in the UK are at risk of closing within the next five years because at least three quarters of their doctors are aged 55 or over and approaching retirement.
Experts said so many closures would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the health service.
Appointment waiting times could get even longer, workloads would grow and more people could end up queueing at A&E for minor illnesses.
Campaigners warned the potential closures would be ‘dangerous’ for patients and are calling for ‘drastic action’ to encourage new GPs to join the profession.
The situation is worst in Southend in Essex, where 13 of the area’s 35 GP practices are at risk of closing, potentially affecting nearly 39,000 patients.
A third of surgeries in the London borough of Havering could shut down, and more than 85,000 patients could lose their GP in Sandwell and West Birmingham.
Only around a quarter of areas of England have no practices at risk of closure, according to the RCGP’s estimates.
Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners have revealed 762 GP practices across the UK are at risk of closing in the next five years (Map shows the proportion of surgeries in each area which are at risk of closing)