NHS waiting times increase due to pension crisis

Waiting times for routine surgery on the NHS have increased by up to 50 per cent as senior doctors are refusing extra shifts due to tax issues facing the NHS pension scheme.

The tapered annual allowance, introduced in 2016, means that the amount of tax relief available on pension contributions for NHS workers earning over £110,000 per year is being restricted.

This has caused consultants to refuse working beyond their planned hours due to the unexpected tax bills this creates, as those near the £110,000 threshold must either reduce their hours, quit the NHS pension scheme or take an early retirement.

The pension issues have resulted in waiting times for routine surgeries soaring over the past three months.

Commenting on the findings, BMA Consultants Committee chair and consultant anaesthetist, Rob Harwood, said: “For the first time, we are seeing hard evidence of the problem; hospital chief executives publicly sharing something the BMA has known for months – doctors are being forced to say no.

“No to extra shifts to reduce huge waiting lists, no to covering for staff shortages and no overtime weekend cover. Not because they want to, but because if they don’t, they face huge bills, created by the ludicrous pensions taxation rules that the Treasury is so far refusing to overhaul.”

Royal London director of policy, Steve Webb, said that sorting out the NHS pension tax relief issue should be “a priority for the new Chancellor”.

He continued: “No one objects to limiting pension tax relief for higher earners, but the way it is being done is absurdly complex and is having unintended consequences for the NHS.

“Tweaking the NHS pension scheme would simply be a sticking plaster response. The ‘tapered’ annual allowance needs to be abolished and replaced with a simpler across-the-board limit on pension contributions.”

However, in May, Chancellor Philip Hammond ruled out scrapping the tapered annual allowance as it is necessary “to create a fair system and protect finances”.

Harwood, however, did not agree with Hammond, saying: “We have no wish to see hospital leaders having to admit that their patients are being left without the care they need, and that staff are voting with their feet.

“No doctor wants to do anything but their best for their patients but if, in doing so, they face bills of tens of thousands of pounds, something has to change.

“This government absolutely has to see sense and agree to a major overhaul of pension taxation before patient care is bereft of high skilled experienced doctors and lives are lost.”

The BMA has said that it will continue to lobby the government to make changes to the NHS pension tax rules.

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