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Government bid to rein in 'double-benefit' pensions

The Government has launched a desperate bid to claw back money from GPs' pensions.

By Rob Finch

Ministers claim rises brought about by the new contract are 'unaffordable' and 'unfair' and have demanded urgent talks with the GPC.

Under pressure from the Treasury, the Department of Health wants to limit the level of 'dynamisation' that uplifts GPs' pensions in line with average earnings increases.Interim figures for 2003 to 2006 put the average rise in GPs' pensions at 30 per cent, but the actual figure is expected to be more than 40 per cent.

A department spokesman said GPs had gained 'very substantial double benefit from the one increase' in earnings. He added: 'This has a significant impact on NHS Pension Scheme costs and ultimately on other members of the scheme. It is important that the changes introduced in the assessment of GP pensions deliver proportionate increases in pensions.'

But GPC negotiators have vowed to force the Govermnent to stand by the agreement it signed up to in 2004 in talks to begin this month. Dr Hamish Meldrum, GPC chair, said the threat to GPs' pensions had 'serious consequences' for the recently-completed contract review and future negotiations.

Dr Andrew Dearden, GPC negotiator with responsibility for pensions, said the Government would be 'dishonourable' if it tried to renege on the pensions deal. He said: 'They signed a contract and if they say they didn't understand what they signed that would suggest negligence or incompetence.

'It's true to say that GPs have performed better than expected but they have to abide by the agreement. That's not to say we're not prepared to hear them, but we're taking all the relevant advice. We don't want to sour our relationship.'

Former GPC deputy chair and chair of the BMA pensions committee, Dr Simon Fradd ­ who was mocked by some GPs for predicting up to 45 per cent increases in pensions after the contract was signed ­ said ministers had failed to listen. He said: 'It's complete nonsense that it's not affordable ­ we [GPs] are putting the money in.'

Dr Tim Southwood, a GP in Bristol, warned that older GPs would resign en masse if their pensions were threatened. He said: 'There's a danger they are going to accelerate the exodus of older doctors. Of course there may be an ulterior motive because they think we're too expensive.'

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