GPs 'left in the dark' over interim pension tax solution - BMA

The British Medical Association (BMA) has repeated calls for “urgent action” to resolve the ongoing NHS pensions crisis, stating that “GPs are being left in the dark”.

The BMA highlighted the lack of clarity around the interim solution proposed by NHS last November as “unacceptable”, warning that delays to clarify the benefits could see doctors once again cutting back hours for the year ahead.

The emergency plan, announced by NHS England in November 2019, allowed pension tax bills incurred by doctors to be paid through the ‘scheme pays’ option, though concerns were raised that this could potentially cause tax avoidance issues.

BMA GP committee chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said: “As we outlined in our recent letter to Sir Simon Stevens, the lack of clarity about how these arrangements will apply to them is a cause of deep concern for many GPs. It’s unacceptable that more than two months after this short-term solution was promised to all doctors in the NHS, GPs are being left in the dark.

“As we pressed on Sir Simon, the situation needs urgently addressing as it greatly impacts GPs being able to manage not just their pension but their wider finances.

“It’s therefore understandable that, without this clarity, GPs will be hesitant to commit to extra work this year that could risk triggering significant annual allowance charges.

“We are therefore continuing to push NHSEI to take the necessary urgent action to resolve this important issue.”

This latest call for action follows research from NHS providers that stated that the pensions taxation issues could lead to an “exodus of NHS leaders”, with 44 per cent of all trust leaders considering, or already planning, to leave the NHS as a result.

The tapered annual allowance has drawn increasing attention after causing issues for NHS staff members, with industry experts also drawing attention to the broader implications on the public sector, such as for the armed forces.

Both the BMA and pensions industry experts have called for a more permanent solution to the ongoing crisis, echoing the Office for Tax Simplification's own recommendation that the annual allowance be scrapped for DB schemes.

The Scottish Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, also called for a permanent solution earlier this month in a letter to the then Chancellor, Sajid Javid.

A government review of the allowance was confirmed to be underway in January, with the findings of the report expected to be published at the government budget in March.

However, it is now thought that the budget could be delayed due to Javid's resignation as Chancellor.

Commenting on this, BMA pensions committee chair, Dr Vishal Sharma, added: “There cannot be a single member of the government who is not aware of the BMA’s consistent lobbying and demand for a long term solution to a situation which continues to penalise doctors for working and be detrimental to patient care.

“The stop-gap fixes are ineffective and the NHS is running out of time. The current option - for the NHS’s most experienced staff to reduce the work they do for the NHS – is untenable.

“With the Budget less than a month away, the new Chancellor must scrap the annual allowance in defined benefit schemes such as the NHS pension scheme, a position backed by the government’s own advisers: the Office of Tax Simplification.”

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