Govt accused of ‘sidelining’ solutions to NHS crisis

The government has been accused of sidelining detailed discussions around finding a solution to the NHS pensions crisis by launching a premature consultation on the issue.

Members of its NHS pensions advisory board, set up to aid the government in finding a solution, said that even the Department of Health and Social Care was “wrongfooted and left scrambling” following the publication of the Interim Workforce Review on 3 June, which outlined the highly criticised 50:50 option.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialist Association (HSCA), a union representative on the board, said there were detailed discussions around three other options that would have offered increased flexibility, but which were upended by “policy-makers keen to be seen to be ‘doing something’”.

HCSA interim chief executive, Joe Chattin, said: “We only learned of this planned consultation on a 50:50 option via the Interim Workforce Review, and seemingly even the Department of Health and Social Care was wrongfooted and left scrambling to firm up the details on the day.

“They announced it while discussions continued between unions representing senior NHS staff, all of whom oppose 50:50, and the pension scheme on a range of other flexibilities through the NHS Pension Scheme Advisory Board.

“At best, 50:50 is a half-hearted measure proposed by policy-makers keen to be seen to be ‘doing something’. At worst, it is a deliberate attempt to sideline those detailed discussions. Either way it misses the point.”

The Financial Times reported yesterday (18 June) that the government had been accused of “jumping the gun” on the issue.

According to HSCA, the three other options include; a more flexible version of the 50:50 approach, allowing doctors to adjust as it suits; allowing people to set an annual limit contributions into their pension scheme; as well as allowing people to come out of their pension scheme but retain some of their in service benefits.

The union believes that all three should be without the loss of the employer contributions.

Under the government’s 50:50 proposals, employees are able to reduce their pension contributions to 50 per cent, while maintaining employer contributions at 100 per cent.

However, both the British Medical Association and HSCA have rallied against the solution, as it “would not provide the flexibility urgently needed”.

“HCSA believes that only reform of the annual allowance and abolition of the taper will begin to ease this situation,” Chattin added.

“Tweaking the scheme by introducing greater flexibility will ease issues for some doctors, but will not be enough to head off this crisis. That responsibility lies with the Treasury and the Chancellor.”

Since the introduction of the annual allowance taper in April 2016, and the lowering of the tax relief threshold from £1.25m to £1m, many consultants are penalised for continuing to pay into their pension fund.

Furthermore, many NHS employees are not in a position to regulate their pension contribution, meaning they will not know until after the event if they have exceeded the savings limit.

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