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Government’s final offer on NHS pensions ‘not acceptable’ for GPs

BMA leaders have warned the Government's final NHS pensions offer is ‘not acceptable' to GPs, after ministers pushed ahead with a ‘Robin Hood-style' deal which will see high earners' pots raided to spare those earning less than £26,000.

The UK's largest public sector union Unison announced this afternoon it had received a 'final offer' on the far-reaching changes to NHS pensions, which will see contributions rise and the retirement age raised.

Unison has now suspended plans for further industrial action, ahead of a meeting on 10 January where its health committee will decide whether to accept or reject the deal, or formally consult members.

The BMA has committed to putting the Government's final offer to a vote of its members in the New Year, with a ‘no' vote set to trigger a ballot on industrial action.

While the Treasury has yet to formally comment on the deal, Unison said the offer would ensure those less than ten years away from retirement would not face any change to their pension, and those earning less than £26,000 would be protected from an increase in contributions next year.

But Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA's pensions committee and a GP in Cardiff, told Pulse the deal – trailed last week – would ‘make it worse' for GPs hit with increased contributions of 9.9% from next April.

‘For GPs it will be a massive rise in terms of contributions. I suspect the profession is not going to like it. What the BMA has to do now ask its members is what they want us to do in terms of taking action. That BMA will put it to its members and we will see.'

Dr Bailey said the BMA was ‘trying very much to keep in-line with all the other unions' but added: ‘Your contribution should depend on your actual income.'

‘In terms of the NHS pensions scheme we are very much trying to maintain a united front. Our view clearly is that heavily tiered contributions aren't fair. But the bottom line it's not acceptable for any of us.'

Christina McAnea, UNISON head of health, said: ‘This is the Government's final offer. On some issues - such as contribution rates for the low paid next year, and for people close to retirement - we have made progress.'

‘On others, we always knew this would be a damage limitation exercise – aimed at reducing the worst impacts of the Government's pension changes.'

‘We've always believed public sector workers deserve decent pensions, and our members have shown they are willing to take action to defend these.'

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: 'Throughout negotiations, the BMA and other health unions have repeatedly made the case that the NHS pension is already fair to both staff and taxpayers. The scheme was radically overhauled only three years ago, and is currently providing a positive cashflow to the Treasury.'

'We are extremely disappointed that the Government has refused to concede this. Despite some improvements to the original offer, doctors stand to be hit very hard by these changes. Junior doctors in their twenties would have to work until the age of 68 and pay over £200,000 more in additional pension contributions.'

'We will now seek our members' views on the offer, and – if they consider it unacceptable – on what action they would be prepared to take. It is crucial that all doctors and medical students tell us their views.  It's their future, their pension, and we want them to have their say.'

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, said: 'The  NHS pension fund was not short of a penny or two and there's an awful lot more going into it than going out.'

'We as GPs accepted that we would pay a higher percentage of our income towards our pension to allow the lower paid people in the NHS to pay less – which we thought was just at the time – but now they're asking us all over again.'

Dr Andrew Mimangh, chair of Sefton LMC, said: 'The previous one was definitely not satisfactory, given that there's been a wholescale rearrangement only three years ago. Unless there's been a material change then I can't see being any more in favour of the present one.'

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: 'Employers want a sustainable pension scheme that continues to be competitive and attractive for existing staff and new joiners. To that end, we will continue to work with government and trade unions for the benefit of patients.  We hope we can secure final agreement quickly.'