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MPs issue stern warning on ‘continual’ changes to NHS pensions

By Alisdair Stirling

MPs have warned ministers they risk undermining confidence in the NHS pension and losing healthcare workers including GPs if they do not 'develop consensus' around the reforms they want to make.

In a report from an influential parliamentary committee, MPs have warned recommendations from the Hutton review - including those affecting GPs - could undermine NHS workers' confidence in the value of their pensions and affect recruitment and retention.

The Public Accounts Committee evaluated the impact of the 2007-8 changes to public sector pensions, and made recommendations to ministers about how to implement the next set of reforms due to be announced later this year. Click here to read the full report

The reforms will be based on the Hutton review that recommended GPs work longer and make higher contributions to their pension.

The committee said the Treasury should take a conciliatory approach to pensions reform and should make sure stakeholders such as GPs are on board with the changes.

The report criticised the Treasury for not testing the potential impact of previous pensions changes and warned ministers to set out clear objectives and to put in place arrangements to monitor them carefully.

'There are costs associated with continually changing pension arrangements. These include increased administration costs and the potential impact on employees' confidence in the value of their pensions,' the report said

'The Treasury accepts that it was a weakness of its approach to the 2007-08 changes that it did not set out clear and measurable objectives against which to monitor performance over time.'

'It is important that the Treasury clearly defines the objectives of any future changes and develops consensus around them, in order to promote a period of stability for public service pensions.'

It also warned that the NHS reforms and the handing of budgets to GP commissioning consortia could affect employees' eligibility to belong to public service pension schemes in the future with an impact on contributions.

In response to the report, Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA's pensions committee, said: 'The Public Accounts Committee is right to point out that the Government needs to carefully assess the potential consequences of further changes to public sector pensions.'

'Another sharp increase in contributions for NHS staff, or an increase in the retirement age, is likely to destabilise the largest public sector pension scheme, increasing the burden on the state, and creating problems with retention of senior staff.'

The report comes as LMC representatives prepare to urge the GPC to resist changes to GP pensions 'by all possible means', including industrial action and mass resignation, at their annual conference in London next month.

Click here to read the full report

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