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GPs set to be given greater flexibility over pensions contributions

GPs will be able to choose their own percentage of pension contributions, in a new ‘flexible’ approach replacing the current 50:50 proposal.

The Government has announced proposals to overhaul the current pensions rules for NHS doctors, including greater flexibility on pensions contributions and a review by the Treasury into the tapered annual allowance.

In new proposals outlined by the health secretary and the chancellor, employers will be given the option to ‘recycle’ their contributions into the overall salary. 

The Department of Health and Social Care will soon publish a consultation with proposals of all the ‘wide-ranging’ flexibilities to the NHS Pension Scheme, which means from the next financial year, GPs can remain in the scheme without facing huge financial penalties.

Doctors will be allowed to set their own level of pension accrual at the start of each year in multiples of 10, ie 10%, 20% etc. The Government hopes this will mean GPs can set a level to provide enough leeway from them to take on additional work without breaching their annual allowance. Employers have the option to recycle their unused contribution back into a GP’s salary.

However, BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘The new proposed flexibilities will provide short-term relief for many doctors, but they themselves do not tackle the core and underlying problem. This lies in tax reform, and as we have said before, it is the overhaul of the annual allowance and tapered annual allowance, that will make a difference to all doctors, including consultants, GPs and medics in the armed forces.’

He added: ‘We said clearly when it launched that the earlier consultation on the 50:50 model – whereby doctors and employers halve what they put into their pension pots – was not fit-for-purpose and we are pleased that the Government has heeded the BMA’s concerns by ditching it. This method is overly restrictive and can leave doctors putting either too much or too little into their pensions.’

A BMA poll recently revealed four in 10 GPs have cut their hours over pension tax penalties.

It comes as GPs had been facing personal tax bills of up to £50,000, as reported by a financial planning and investment firm, who said the news had been a result of a surge in GPs seeking pensions advice.

Guidance will be issued to employers on how they can provide staff with the flexibility on a local level for this financial year so they can carry out extra shifts with going over the limits for pensions tax relief.

The BMA has said it is glad its year-long lobbying has led to the Government ‘sitting up’ and taking action.

Dr Nagpaul continued: ‘We acknowledge this step forward by the Government. After a year’s tireless lobbying by the BMA on the damaging and perverse effect that this legislation is having on our NHS, its doctors and patients, it is good to see the Government finally sitting up and taking notice and proposing action.

‘The BMA will be glad to work with the chancellor and the health secretary to guarantee changes that will solve the problem for all doctors.’

The Government has said it hopes the changes will retain doctors, in a bid to fulfil the goals of cutting waiting times as part of the long-term plan.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘These comprehensive proposals will give doctors the pension flexibilities they have called for and need to make sure they are rewarded for extra work. We are taking immediate action and I hope these flexibilities will encourage our top NHS staff to fulfil the dedication of their mission: to care for their fellow citizens in time of need.’

It comes as younger GPs were being advised to cut their clinical hours to avoid extra pensions charges.

Research previously suggested doctors were having to create DIY ‘work-arounds’ to avoid huge tax bills.