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GPs retiring early due to pension pots limits, says NHS England official

Older GPs are looking at ’alternative options’ because of changes to the tax treatment of pensions pots, a senior NHS England official has told MPs.

NHS England’s director of commissioning Rosamond Roughton said that NHS England has commissioned a review into why older GPs are leaving the profession as part of evidence on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC)’s review into the NHS workforce.

She said that the review is to be concluded imminently, and said that it would be made public.

But she did say that focus groups have revealed that the changes to the lifetime tax allowance on pensions – which meant that all workers in the UK would start paying tax when their pension pot exceeds £1m, as opposed to the £1.5m  previously – had led some GPs to retire early.

In the session, Ms Roughton said NHS England has ’commissioned a detailed review of all the evidence about why doctors are leaving earlier than their retirement age’ which will ‘be one of the building blocks in terms of delivering the extra 5,000 doctors in general practice, which we want to do’.

She added: ’We have run some focus groups to ask about the pension pot issue and, anecdotally, we are hearing messages about people who have reached their pension pot limit feeling that they have some alternative options.’

According to Ms Roughton, the review was to be concluded by the end of last week and eventually be made public.

She said the meta-analysis review of existing research looked at ‘all the evidence out there’, but the final report would include a section on pensions changes. 

Ms Roughton said: ’We have commissioned a review to look at all the evidence out there—all the research that has been done in this country and some international work as well,although it is less relevant in this context—that gives us information about why doctors might be leaving general practice.’

It comes as a number of changes to the NHS pension scheme come in from April which may affect GPs.

The annual allowance – the increase in value of a GP’s pension each year before more income tax is charged – will be lowered for the highest earners from April.

Previously, the threshold was £40,000 for everyone but the highest earners will soon be paying tax on any pension increases of more than £10,000.

At the same time, the lifetime allowance – the total you can build up in your pension pot without paying tax – will reduce from £1.25m to £1m, having previously been £1.8m in 2010. 

The GP retention problem

Jeremy Hunt - online

Jeremy Hunt – online

The Government has pledged that there will be 5,000 extra GPs in England in 2020 compared to 2015, but while it is also struggling with filling GP training places, retaining the existing workforce will be another key factor.

To this end, the Government included a point in its £10m 10-point plan to improve recruitment and retention that said GPs would be incentivised to delay their retirement although details of this has yet to be announced more than a year after the plan was laid out.

However, a revelation could be near as health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s package to support general practice, which was expected to be announced during this month, is to include new measures to try to improve the workforce crisis.

Meanwhile, a report into why so many GPs are retiring before the age of 50, commissioned by NHS England, recently found burnout and overwork to be two key components.