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Pension flexibility proposals not enough to sustain GP services, warns Simon Stevens

Government proposals to make pensions more flexible are not enough to ensure the sustainability of GP services, NHS England’s chief executive has warned. 

In a keynote speech addressed to delegates at the NHS Expo in Manchester, Mr Stevens said ‘significant further action’ is needed if GP and clinicians are to continue to provide sustainable services to patients. 

The Government announced in July proposals that would offer high earning GPs, alongside consultants and other senior clinicians, the option to build up their pension more slowly by making steadier contributions towards their pension, without facing regular significant tax charges’.

The consultation suggested the introduction of the 50:50 section, which would let doctors halve their pension contributions and get half the rate of pension growth in return. 

But new proposals announced in August suggested to scrap the 50:50 option and give NHS doctors the flexibility to choose how much of their salary they wish to be pensionable. This included the possibility for employers to ‘recycle’ their contributions into the overall salary. 

Mr Stevens said we need ‘significant further action’ as flexibility alone will not guarantee the sustainability of healthcare services. 

He said:We have to be honest about the fact that in some respect the patient and the public experience is not what we would want. Waits for GP appointments have been getting longer, partly of course due to the great pressures on GP practice themselves, the fact that GP numbers have not kept up with the rising patient need.

‘Yes we’re succeeding in recruiting the highest number ever of young doctors into general practice training but we haven’t been able to hold onto the more experienced GPs who will be retiring early partly because of the pension crisis brought about by the tax treatment of pensions.

‘Therefore it’s very welcomed that we are seeing flexibility now being consulted on by the Government. We’re going to see a significant further action on the way the annual allowance works to ensure hospital clinicians and primary care clinicians are able to continue to sustain the range of services that patients clearly want.’

In the same speech, the NHS announced it is looking at offering patients access to high-dose statins through community pharmacies without the need for a GP prescription.