GPs will be hit with the first in a series of steep hikes to their pension contributions before being balloted on possible industrial action, after ministers revealed they are to unilaterally impose the NHS pension reforms next month.
The Department of Health will implement the first set of contribution rises from 1 April, after the BMA rejected a ‘proposed final agreement' tabled last week that offered no major concessions. The move will see most GPs paying pension contributions of 9.9%, with the 2.4 percentage point rise from this year predicted to cost the average GP an extra £120 a month.
The imminent hike – the first of three tiered contribution increases that will see most GPs pay 13.5% in contributions by 2014/15 – means GPs will feel the first impact of the Government's pensions raid before the BMA issues ballot papers on industrial action.
The BMA has yet to announce a ballot date, but its roadshows to brief members on options for action do not conclude until 16 April – more than two weeks after contribution rises come in.
Last week the DH tabled a final pensions offer and invited unions to suspend plans for industrial action and consult their members again.
The deal – similar to the revised offer published before Christmas, which further increased GP pension contributions from the original offer in order to protect lower-paid NHS staff – offered no concessions on contributions or retirement age, although it did clarify death-in-service benefits and allow members to pay additional contributions to retire up to three years early without facing actuarial reductions.
A series of health unions including Unison said they would consult members on the offer, but the BMA rejected it out of hand. Chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘There has been no significant progress – the BMA's position remains unchanged. We have little choice but to continue with our plans to ballot doctors.'
Health minister Simon Burns said the Government planned to bring in contribution rises from 1 April after consultation last year – even though the majority of the consultation submissions were critical of the changes, with many based on template responses from Pulse and the BMA.
‘The increases apply to service from 1 April 2012 and continue throughout the financial year,' Mr Burns said. ‘The Government remains committed to securing in full the spending review savings in 2013/14 and 2014/15 by further increasing member contributions.'
Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the GPC pensions subcommittee, said: ‘This is going to become much more real now GPs will start seeing a reduction in take-home pay. GPs will start to see a drop in their monthly pay packet of about £120. This increase is just the first of three. We have not agreed to any of this – this has been imposed.'
While the BMA has ruled out strike action, the Government could yet face a strike from practices affiliated with the Medical Practitioners' Union, a branch of Unite. MPU president Dr Ron Singer said public-sector unions were considering a repeat of the co-ordinated action seen last November, but said most GPs would not be included ‘because the BMA timescale is way behind the other unions'.
Writing in Pulse this week, former BMA Council member Dr Kailash Chand warned the BMA's reluctance to join action with other unions before Christmas had ‘left GPs out in the cold'.
Dr David Church, a GP in Machynlleth, Wales, said: ‘The BMA should have acted sooner, in conjunction with other unions.'
‘My generation is really going to suffer'
Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer (pictured above), a Hertford GP who sits on the GPC and the BMA's Junior Doctors Committee, expects the Government's pensions raid to cost her £200,000 in extra contributions over her lifetime.
‘The feeling is enormous among young GPs,' she said. ‘You have a generation of young doctors, who I would include myself in, who felt they were done down by Modernising Medical Careers and I think they still carry a grievance. Pensions is the last straw that has broken the camel's back.'
‘There is a lot of anger, and people are quite scared.It is really important we get anger and frustration turned into democracy because it is my generation and those behind me that are really going to suffer,' she added.
Click above or here to see how the hikes will hit GPs