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Deadlock over pensions as BMA claims Government shows ‘no desire to talk’

Exclusive The BMA has warned the Government is showing ‘no desire to talk' in the opening days of formal negotiations with health unions over the NHS Pension Scheme, with ministers insisting on imposing the proposed six-percentage-point hike in GP contributions in full.

Fierce criticism of the Government's inflexible negotiating stance came as a new analysis by the BMA, seen by Pulse, revealed changes to the NHS pension already introduced are set to cost GPs up to £125,000 each over the course of their lifetimes.

Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA pensions committee and a GP in Cardiff, attacked the Government for refusing to negotiate on the hike in GP contributions as talks between Department of Health officials and health unions got underway at the end of July.

Dr Dearden said the DH was restricting talks to discussions on how the contribution hike was introduced, rather than the hike itself, describing it as akin to doctors being told they ‘will be shot' but giving them ‘the chance to choose the gun'.

He also strongly criticised the ‘non-negotiated' change last April from use of the retail price index to the lower consumer price index to uplift NHS pensions, following the release of new forecasts from the BMA showing it will cost GPs huge sums. GPs stand to lose £124,589 each by the time they reach 85, the analysis shows.

Dr Dearden said the Government was showing a similar lack of appetite for discussing pension contribution hikes and called on every GP in the country to join the fight against the coalition's pensions ‘stealth tax'.

‘I'm not political,' he said. ‘However, the previous government spent three years consulting us over its change to pensions. The coalition seems to have no desire to even talk to us. They pushed through the CPI/RPI change and they've already said they are going to raise contribution rates.

‘Over contribution increases there has been no negotiation. The Government's starting point has been: "We are going to do this, how would you like us to do it?' 

'It is like someone telling you they are going to shoot you and then offering you the chance to choose the gun. We want to talk about being shot, not the gun.'

The BMA said that the coalition was still planning to abolish final-salary pension schemes for consultants, a move that could trigger industrial action if forced through. A consultation on final-salary schemes and the retirement age for doctors is expected in the autumn.

Dr Dearden added: ‘The Government has to understand doctors are thinking about leaving, and starting to leave, the pension scheme. If tens of thousands of doctors write to them and express their anger, they might just think twice.' Click here to use Pulse's template to respond to the consultation.

Dr Stephen Mann, a GP in Stourbridge, West Midlands, said: ‘It is wrong that the Government wants to change the rules on pensions without discussion. GPs already earn an average pension that is less than consultants, but we are being hit by contribution increases without negotiation.'