Exclusive NHS England has paid out thousands of pounds in compensation to GPs for mishandling their pensions but has banned them from talking about it.
At least 35 GPs have each been given an average of £1,000 after Primary Care Support England – NHS England’s body for pensions administration, run by private firm Capita – failed in its management of their pension information.
But the compensation offer was made on the basis the GPs complied with a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which prevents them from talking about the payment.
The overall sum paid to the 35 GPs subject to a gagging clause – £34,868.02 – was revealed by NHS England in its response to a freedom of information (FOI) request in January made by grassroots campaign group GP Survival.
GP Survival campaign lead Dr Nick Grundy said the average £1,000 payment was ‘not enough on its own’ for the problems caused ‘but it’s a good start’.
He said he believed the NDA was an attempt to cover up the ‘hassle’ GPs face in accessing ‘simple’ information about their pension.
GP Survival challenged NHS England over its inclusion of the NDA and GPs have since been made compensation offers without the clause.
Dr Grundy said he believes over 100 GPs could be going through the compensation claims process. This may be due to GPs having incurred financial losses as a result of incorrect pension records.
There are also wider problems, such as the potential for GPs to be issued a tax charge if their pension records indicate they have breached their annual tax-free allowance, said Dr Grundy.
But the more common reason for seeking compensation is the hours GPs have sacrificed to help rectify the problems – making many more GPs eligible to make a claim, said Dr Grundy.
He said: ‘The real reason PCSE’s mishandling of information is a problem is it’s an enormous admin burden and hassle and stress for enormous numbers of GPs – not just the very small number who’ve actually got compensation.’
Dr Grundy added: ‘The reason NHS England is putting non-disclosure agreements on these things is they don’t want people to know the hassle that they’re [GPs] having to go through to get something as simple as their pension records updated.’
NHS England said in its FOI response to GP Survival that ‘the non-disclosure clause was a condition of the Memorandum of Understanding for the GP pensions compensation process which was agreed in April 2019′.
It added: ‘This was agreed by senior management after considering legal advice and how claims around pensions will be dealt with.’
North London GP Dr Toni Hazell was offered the £1,000 compensation fee last month, which was made ‘on an ex gratia basis in connection with delay in processing of your certificates,’ according to a letter NHS England sent to her.
However, Dr Hazell had applied for a higher amount after calculating she had spent over 20 hours trying to resolve pension information on behalf of PCSE – which later revealed she had overpaid £4,500 into her pension pot.
The higher compensation fee was refused on the basis that ‘non-financial injustice awards will not be calculated based on the number of hours spent by an applicant multiplied by an hourly rate of pay’, according to an NHS England letter.
Dr Hazell said she plans to split the compensation with GP Survival so the group can help to fight other cases.
She applied for the money after spending hours replying to ‘complex’ emails and scanning payslips into her computer to send to PCSE.
This was after she tried to access her pensions information online around five years ago and found there was missing information on her rewards statement.
Dr Hazell, who has worked in the NHS since 2000, said: ‘I was told unless I could provide all my payslips from before 2015/16 they couldn’t guarantee my pension had been correctly recorded.’
She added: ‘It is incredibly stressful knowing the basis of your retirement fund is not being properly looked after.’
Locum GP Dr Jeremy Heath, based in Cornwall, was offered £1,000 compensation last year after he spent three years chasing ‘thousands of pounds’ of pensions contributions that were unaccounted for.
He said: ‘They wouldn’t answer my phone calls, they weren’t responding to emails or the online [system] so I think the compensation is for the amount of time I put in chasing an error on their part.’
Dr Heath said he’d been told the pension money had now been recorded, but said the compensation fee ‘doesn’t cover the amount of time I’ve put in’.
He was initially asked to agree to the NDA, but objected to it and the clause was removed.
He said: ‘They are offering a poor service and then they try to pay me off to keep quiet – that’s what that was.’
NHS England was approached for comment.
In 2018 consultancy firm PwC was appointed to help review all GP pension data, which NHS England said would have a ‘significant’ impact on a ‘large proportion of the GP community’.
But at the start of last year it was revealed only one in four GP pension records for 2017/18 were up to date.