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Health secretary given right to suspend GPs' pensions before conviction

Pension benefits for GPs could be suspended if they are accused of a crime - without necessarily being convicted - under reforms brought in by the Government. 

Under existing law, the health secretary has the power to suspend all or part of any rights to NHS Pension Scheme benefits where a member is convicted of an offence.

But it has decided to extend the powers of the health secretary to be allowed to suspend these rights when a charge has been brought, and before any conviction.

The BMA strongly opposed the measure, warning it would subject 'innocent members to hardship', but the Government decided to continue with the proposal despite their protestations.

Last year, the Department of Health proposed to amend the forfeiture of pension benefits as part of a consultation on proposals to change NHS pension scheme regulations.

As it stands, members of the NHS Pension Scheme are liable to have their rights to a pension removed if convicted of a crime that took place before any benefit or other amount became payable.

The Government decided to extend the 'forfeiture' rules so that the secretary of state 'may suspend pension benefits if a member or other beneficiary is charged or convicted with an offence that may lead to all or part of those benefits being forfeited'.

The BMA warned that suspending a person’s pension benefits before they have been proved guilty of a crime would be unfair as it would subject 'innocent members to hardship'.

The BMA said: 'We oppose the proposal to give the secretary of state the power to suspend a person’s pension benefits before they have been proved guilty of committing a crime. This risks unfairly subjecting innocent members to hardship.

'We believe that the proposed new power is neither necessary nor proportionate and should be abandoned. Alternatively, such a power should be limited either by reference to the length of time of the suspension (having regard to the potential length of criminal proceedings) or by reference to the amount of benefits that may be suspended (having regard to the risk of hardship).'

But the Government argued that existing processes are lengthy as the secretary of state first needs to 'seek representations from the member or beneficiary' before they can use their forfeiture powers.

'This takes time and means that a member may claim benefits before the outcome of court proceedings is known or before the secretary of state directs forfeiture,' the Government said.

'As a consequence, a member or beneficiary may receive substantial pension and lump sum payments from the public purse, notwithstanding the fact that the member has been charged with, or convicted of, serious relevant offences.'

Dr Naureen Bhatti, an East London GP and appraiser, called the move disgraceful.

She said: 'I think this would be gross injustice to be able to do this, it’s disgraceful. To do this before someone has even been proven guilty is an absolute disgrace so I would agree with the BMA. I am really shocked to hear this. 

'It’s too open to harming and I think it will harm more people than in the very rare occasions where someone is such a bad criminal that we don’t want them to get their pension out of the public purse. 

She added: 'These things take years to settle and by then people might have lost their home or might not be able to pay their mortgage so it doesn’t strike me as fair.

'If you think about what happened to Dr Bawa Garba, that’s the sort of person who would have lost their benefits if she were in that stage of her career and yet it was a gross miscarriage of justice as the majority of doctors have confirmed and which has now been shown.'

A Department of Heath and Social Care spokesperson told Pulse that the duration of suspension is at the secretary of state's discretion and will be decided on a case-by-case basis. If the person were to be found innocent, the pension would be reinstated, they added.

The Government said: 'The Department acknowledges the concerns raised by respondents and emphasises the discretionary nature of the proposed suspension power.

'The secretary of state is required to act in accordance with obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998, and also to consider equality implications under the Public-Sector Equality Duty and the impact on families under the "Family Test".

'In addition, general public law principles require the secretary of state to maintain an open mind when deciding whether or not to suspend the right to, or payment of, benefits pending a forfeiture decision and to reach a reasonable and rational decision following consideration of all relevant facts. All representations, including those relating to financial hardship, will be considered by the secretary of state.'

It added: 'In circumstances where the secretary of state applies a suspension but does not subsequently direct forfeiture, or directs forfeiture of an amount less than the amount suspended, then the amount suspended or the difference will be paid to the member together with interest.

'In conclusion, having considered the responses, the Department confirms it will proceed to implement the proposed amendments.'

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Readers' comments (36)

  • So,another disgraceful abuse of power against powerless NHS personnel, and GPs in particular, is planned.
    However,this strikes one as being such an vindictive and egregious suggestion that I doubt it would survive a legal challenge.
    Such a move would surely be considered a breach of the GPs fundamental human rights & that of their dependents.
    I also doubt that the Secretary of State for Health has such power over NHS staff or contractors to the NHS, especially since the govt famously amputated themselves from the legal responsibility of running the NHS under Lansleys disastrous reforms and are therefore no longer our employers or contractors.
    What legal structure could empower such confiscation of a GPs pension by the Secretary of State for Health? These monies are not ill gotten gains and cannot be seized in the same way as criminal assets. There can be no public interest in going after the GPs pension and any punitive action or sentence as a result of prosecution should be ordered by solely the courts ( & by the GMC with regards to ongoing registration).
    If you follow the logic used in this proposal then will confiscation of the accused GP's personal property and private home be the next step as these too was paid for by their NHS income?
    Innocent until proven guilty should remain the guiding principle...though the Dr B-G case being a prime example of why even then a case can be ,rightly, overruled on appeal.
    The NHS pension is surely a private asset of the individual & not the property of the state to withhold and it is certainly not public money. It may have been earned in the service of the NHS but ( even if that employee subsequently commits a crime)it was earned legitimately and belongs to the employee who will have paid their contributions over many years whilst being overworked and ill supported in an often overwhelmed and underfunded system...a fact whose implications should be studied in depth when considering any prosecution if NHS staff.

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  • please-delete-this-fucking-profile-i-cant-delete-it-in-my-account-settings

    yet another reason not to be in the NHS pension..i opted out a few years ago, by a random act of good fortune just before Capita took over its admission. it was difficult enough continuing to contribute as a locum with all the form filling but it turns out there's was a significant possibility my contributions would never have even been recorded anyway due to capita's incompetence. add to that umpteen changes since (rate increases, restrictions on what work qualifies, removal of in service death benefits) and more recently the mess over locum pension 'annualisation' (very difficult to get your head around) and now this ..stick it in a SIPP, at least you know where it is, exactly how much is there and it's under your direct control not whoever happens to be overseeing the cash strapped NHS - who seems to think the money's theirs and it's given as a form of government charity to the greedy and over paid public employe. Pensions represent too much cash not to be a constant temptation to the string of weasel politicians standing between you and your retirement..and forward to the day you die. I thought this when i left the scheme, events since have confirmed i was right and my god i'm glad i'm not in it. I do however now have a swelling SIPP it's there for me to see and no one is using it as a ball a chain to get me to do stuff i shouldn't be doing. enough already

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  • It sounds like this will apply to all NHS Pension Scheme members but Pulse have headlined it to be about GPs rather than all doctors / NHS staff to get our attention.

    But this doesn't change my view that this is disgraceful - another potential "innocence tax". At least you might get Legal Aid if you had no pension income... although one might envisage the twisted system denying you Legal Aid because your income is too great, then subsequently withdrawing this income...

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  • Sounds like theft to me. Are we indentured to SoS?

    What a meagre excuse for this bunch of morally destitute cowboys to go to war again with a profession. Others have remarked on the sinister and purposeful nature of this; hostile environment - asserting control by making us scared and cowed.

    Does Simon Stevens have anything to say on our behalf?

    I would request that BMA take QC's legal advice.

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  • Say it with me folks, this is what you get with a universal socialised healthcare service, when the state controls the funds. And the leftists here want us to give them MORE tax to hoard? Great idea....

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  • Legal challenge? Guess who is paying for both sides of the case. Yes the taxpayer of course!

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Like the above: this surely cannot survive a legal challenge. If your "union" doesn't get on with a challenge, someone could try crowdfunding it like Dr Hadiza. But if that is needed, then leave the BMA.

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  • Not only do I personally have zero respect for CQC and GMC this really makes my blood boil.These have been personal contributions.
    Zero respect for current politicians also.

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  • LIke I have been saying on these forums for the pat year over and over and over again. Forget your representatives they are self serving servants of the government. What I am about to say is not elegant but the only way to force the idea through.

    Its the F'ing GPs that don't stand up for their rights.

    My colleagues all around me act like spineless puppets. No doubt then that many must agree with all these political unethical attacks on GP's.

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  • Its up to the courts to award financial penalties IF a criminal is found guilty- not the whim of the Health Secretary.

    DOH are very unwise to get involved starting these witch hunts.

    Stopping a pension only punishes the innocent dependants.

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