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GPs in their 30s ‘being told to cut clinical hours’ to avoid pension charges

Younger GPs are being advised by their accountants to cut clinical hours to avoid extra pension charges, the BMA GP Committee chair has warned.

Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse this is a growing problem across the country that will impact general practice for decades to come.

He said both the BMA and NHS England have been raising the issue with the Treasury, and are calling for changes to the pension scheme to ensure GPs can continue seeing patients without being worried that they are effectively paying to work.

In January, Pulse revealed that health secretary Matt Hancock was in discussions with the Treasury over changing the tax treatment of pensions due to the effect on GP retention, saying it is the ‘biggest concern’ GPs raise with him. However, there has been no reported movement on this issue.

Speaking to Pulse, Dr Vautrey said this is a ‘really big problem’ that does not just impact older GPs, as many younger GPs are now being advised to cut hours.

He said: ‘The issue relates to the annual allowance relating to pension contributions. Many people may think this is a problem for older GPs near retirement, but the big problem is the loss of service from younger doctors.

‘They are being told by accountants and financial advisors that if they are working full-time – nine sessions a week typically – and their earning are above a certain level, then they will be penalised on an annual basis. They are being advised that the best way to tackle this is reduce their clinical commitment, reduce their earnings, and thereby protect themselves.’

Dr Vautrey continued: ‘Doctors in their 30s who have potentially another 30 years to offer the NHS, we are losing them each and every year. It’s having a major impact and it’s one of the reasons why we are struggling to offer enough appointments to our patients.’

‘This is one of the big factors driving the shift towards part-time working. It’s almost costing GPs to work, because of these punitive charges. We have to remove this disincentive for doctors that want and are willing to work.’

Dr Vautrey explained the issue is being repeatedly raised by GPs, as the GPC carry-out the new five-year GP contract roadshows.

The contract – published last month – saw several major changes to general practice, including the move towards primary care networks, something practices will be paid to join.

It also pledged that the BMA and NHS England will lobby the Government together around a partial payment agreement for pensions, meaning GPs would not have to pension their entire income.

Dr Vautrey said they have been in ‘regular’ contact with the Treasury about this.

‘This is happening right across the country, and I think it has become a bigger problem this year, because previously there was an ability to carry forward unused allowance from one year to another, but this has really run out now. So it can no longer protect doctors, so this year it’s become an acute problem,’ he added.

In 2016, the amount GPs were allowed to save into their pension before incurring a tax charge was reduced, from £1.25m to £1m. This led to many GPs seeing little benefit in continuing to pay into their fund, and NHS England heard anecdotal evidence GPs retired early to avoid the new rules.

The recent GP partnership review found tax charges are a common factor for GPs deciding to reduce their clinical commitment, retire early or opt-out of the NHS Pension scheme.