By Ian Quinn
Exclusive: The Department of Health has demanded GPs agree to a rise in their retirement age from 60 to 65 as high-stakes talks begin with the BMA over the future of the NHS pension.
Officials have also outlined plans to ramp up GPs' pension contributions as they formally open negotiations aimed at saving millions from the profession's retirement pot.
Pulse revealed before Christmas that the DH planned to begin renegotiating the NHS pension even before Lord Hutton publishes his keenly awaited report into public-sector pensions, due in March.
GP leaders have been shocked at the urgency with which ministers have pursued talks so early in the New Year, and say they are determined to stand up to the Government's assault on their benefits.
The move to drive up the retirement age comes as nearly 40,000 current and recently retired GPs are set to receive documents trying to persuade them to switch to the 2008 NHS pension, which also includes a retirement age of 65.
Accountants believe the Government may use elements of the 2008 scheme, such as the later retirement age, as the basis for renegotiation across the board, affecting both GPs on the new pension and those on the 1995 scheme.
But they are also warning any move to force GPs to work longer will set off a retirement timebomb, just as health secretary Andrew Lansley needs to win round experienced GPs to his commissioning plans.
Pulse this week launches an online petition – No to 65 – to collect signatures from GPs and be presented to the DH and Treasury, to put pressure on the negotiation process. Click here or email firstname.lastname@example.org to add your name.
Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA's pensions committee, said the opening position of DH negotiators had included plans to raise the retirement age to 65, increase contributions from members of the NHS Pension Scheme and move all its members to a career-average scheme, as already applies to GPs.
He said: ‘The Government has wanted for some time to increase retirement age. It wanted to do it in 2003 and is looking at it again now. We're at the early stages, but the Government has made its desire known.'
Dr Dearden warned the DH's proposals ‘would have a huge impact over 25 years': ‘It seems very premature to talk about things such as increasing contributions considering we haven't even had the Hutton report yet. We're very clear about the feeling from LMCs, the ARM, the GPC and GPs. There is no question of the profession's views about another attack on NHS pensions.'
Pulse reported in December that ministers were planning ‘progressive increases' to contributions from 2012 to 2014, even though GP contributions were only recently increased to 8.5% for higher earners.
Bob Senior, chair of the Association of Independent Specialist Medical Accountants and director of medical services at RSM Tenon, said: ‘If the Government comes up with something reasonable it will not be a resignation issue for GPs, most of whom I think expect an increase in contributions. But if ministers push ahead with making the retirement age of 65 compulsory, it's a different matter.'
NHS Employers said: ‘We are aware the NHS Pension Scheme will change and NHS Employers will be looking at options in partnership with the health trade unions.'
Dr Jacqueline Marshall, a GP in Cricklewood, north-west London, was the first GP in the country to add her name to Pulse's ‘No to 65' petition, as she demanded action from the BMA to prevent a pensions squeeze. Dr Marshall said: ‘As someone in my 50s, I feel as if the Government is trying to pull the rug from under my feet. The BMA has to act.'Dr Jacqueline Marshall No to 65 Add your name to our online petition here No to 65 Expand your practice finance knowledge
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