PR - MP calls for urgent action on NHS pensions to avoid workforce meltdown

Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset, yesterday called for urgent action on NHS pensions to forestall the loss of senior staff across local health trusts.

Speaking during an urgent question in the House on the taxation of NHS pensions, Drax said, “May I add to the sense of urgency by speaking up on behalf of the chief executive of my local community hospital trust? This is affecting not only clinicians but senior staff, too. They want to continue in many cases, but now they are leaving. These are highly valuable, experienced people whom we need to run these trusts. Please can we sort this out as soon as we can?”

The urgent question was asked in the House after after the news that waiting lists for routine surgery have risen by up to 50% because doctors are working to rule in order to avoid soaring tax bills. The bills are in turn caused by the interaction of the taper, which George Osborne introduced in the summer Budget of 2015, with other rules on tax reliefs and the three NHS pension schemes. 

Hospital doctors who have regularly worked weekend overtime in order to get waiting lists down, are refusing to continue to do so because they are being made worse off by breaching their annual pension allowance. The same applies for GPs, many of whom are now doing fewer sessions each week.

“People are warning of a workforce meltdown,” says Drax, “and indeed, it would be difficult for a doctor to tell his or her family that he or she would voluntarily work overtime at the weekend in order to earn less. I understand that the average extra tax bill is £18,500 but there are reports of one off bills of up to £100,000.”

“This is plainly madness. We desperately need our hospital doctors and GPs and senior nurses and indeed, our top administrators. I warned of this after my meetings with Eugine Yafele, CEO of Dorset Healthcare University NHS Trust, back in March. Then, we were finding that pension rules meant that older, more experienced staff were retiring too early, with a BMA survey showing that three quarters were citing these tax changes as a reason to retire. And now, the doctors we do still have are forced to work to rule. These are unintended consequences of the tax rules, undoubtedly, but they must be changed, and fast.”

Elizabeth Truss, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, responded in the House that although she understood the urgency, “Wide-ranging reforms to the taxation and pension systems are not things to be wished overnight; they have to be properly worked through.” She said the Government would be consulting the British Medical Association.