As anger grows over pensions, GPs are demanding answers – and talking of industrial action
Pensions a resignation issue
From Dr Jim Beatson, Troon, Ayrshire and five other GP signatories
Open letter to Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair
Primary care 'performers', particularly those of mature vintage, have come to expect that all matters pertaining to general practice are shrouded in confused complexity prior to descent into chaos. The current GMS2/pension capping fiasco has already exceeded even our expectations. However, there is no need whatsoever for confusion or complexity. Only one question requires an answer: Has pension capping by the Government been an illegal breach of the GMS2 contract or has it been entirely legal under 1995 legislation?
Following protracted negotiations in 2002/03, the GPC/BMA presented its 'leap of faith' contract to a perplexed and divided profession and actively promoted its acceptance. Key aspects of the deal, particularly regarding pensions, went to the wire
but were hailed as a victory. Many GPs recognised the
new contract as incomplete, unpriced and a leap of lemmings but their outcry was ignored. The profession signed up to GMS2 in the belief it was legally binding to both sides.
If pension capping is an illegal breach of contract by the Government, the situation demands an extreme response by the GPC/BMA and by the profession. Many feel industrial action is now mandatory.
Alternatively, if pension capping is covered by
pre-existing legislation, the GPC/BMA has been guilty of incompetence and negligence in its contract negotiations and in its subsequent promotion of GMS2 to the profession. Such a conclusion could lead to a class action lawsuit against the GPC/BMA by aggrieved practitioners.
We wish to be informed whether or not, at the time of GMS2 negotiations and the contract vote, it was known to the GPC/BMA's national negotiating committee, or to any of its individual members, that Government could veto the GMS2 pension agreement under pre-existing legislation.
• Other signatories:
Dr William Delaney, Worksop Nottinghamshire; Dr Dale Egerton, Liss, Hampshire;
Dr John Hawson, Windermere, Cumbria; Dr Jimmy Niblock, Ayr; Dr Robert Park, Shrewsbury Shropshire.
Any other GPs who wish to add their name can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
• From Dr William Phillips, Solihull, West Midlands
I have been a GP since 1973 and bought added years when they first became available. I plan to retire at 60 in July 2008.
I have given a lifetime of service to my patients and to the profession. I was active in medical committee work from the start of fundholding, a process instituted by a Government who knew how to run a health service.
I was chair of Solihull LMC for several years and still am active in out-of-hours work, as well as being a full-time GP.
I find it disgusting the Government can take my pension contributions, made in good faith, and move the goalposts retrospectively to take away my just returns.
This is a time for our profession to unite. The GPC should start collecting undated resignations from the NHS as it did many years ago, as a matter of urgency. Let them see how they can look after the health of the nation without us – after all, we know how 'successful' NHS Direct has been.
• From Dr Stuart Holms, Ayr
I will retire fully at the end of March having worked part-time for eight months. My calculations for my pension and lump sum were based on what I believed was a legally binding agreement as part of GPs' new contract.
We are now told the pension and lump sum will be capped. There are only three possible scenarios that would allow this to happen:
• incompetent legal advice to the BMA
• incompetent negotiators
• a Government unilaterally breaking a legal agreement.
If the first is true, then the BMA should change its lawyers.
Should it turn out that our negotiators were made aware by their lawyers that the contract was not watertight before it was agreed and signed, then immediate resignation of our negotiators is mandatory.
On the basis that the third option is the most likely, then unless we as a profession take strong action we are doomed. Once they have trampled all over us and our agreed pension deal, what next?
An ineffective and apathetic profession will soon see new quality areas added without consultation, such as Saturday morning surgeries, opening until 7pm – and all with no added payments.
Angry? Let down? Poorer? Retiring soon? I'm all of these and more, but my main emotion is one of sadness as I see a profession I have loved being a part of for 38 years being torn to shreds.
• From Dr Mark Saunders, Fleetwood, Lancashire
It is interesting to reflect that BT is to boost its staff pension fund by £2.8bn to tackle one of the biggest pension black holes because of their staff living longer. The 350,000 staff's contributions remain the same and their chairman has stated: 'We stand fully behind our pension obligations.'
It's a shame the Government and NHS don't value GPs in the same way. For the first time ever I will not vote Labour. I truly believe industrial action will have to follow.
• From Dr Michael Collins, Calver, Derbyshire
Open letter to Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA pensions committee chair
I read with alarm the report that Lord Warner is to cap our pension. I assumed after last year, when a pension contract for post-2008 was agreed, that the pension up until 2008 was accepted as per contract.
I am one of many GPs who have planned their retirement date and finances accordingly.
The real losers will be those who retired in 2006, who will have a pension cap of 7.3 per cent in a year when the pension should have increased by about 20 per cent.
Together with the loss in year to 2005, this means those GPs will lose about 20 per cent of their pension – or £10,000 a year and £30,000 tax-free cash.
As a retrospective act, this is quite unacceptable.
Ministers are affected by publicity and direct action. I would support a withdrawal of co-operation with certification and information for the Department of Work and Pensions, which would soon become unworkable.
• From Dr Michael Martin-Smith, Hull
So the Government is imposing a cap on GP dynamising factors for the NHS pension scheme on the grounds that GPs, having been unsporting enough to over-fulfil their targets and earned too much.
This is to be contested in court by the GPC, but, since the Government is top heavy with shysters, the challenge is unlikely to succeed.
I am retiring in April 2007, but have long since made my plans on the basis of probable Government perfidy, and so will not be unduly disappointed! But there are wider implications of this development upon the Government's reputation and its ability to be taken seriously. At a stroke, the Government will demonstrate to the world that its word is worthless – if it cannot keep to a deal reached with its own employees only a few years ago, what about international financial, diplomatic or strategic agreements of any kind?