By Ian Quinn
Doctors’ leaders claim Government plans to move the retirement age of GPs up to 68 have lit the fuse for a retirement timebomb that could see the NHS Pension Scheme collapse.
Under proposals set out by Lord Hutton last week, GPs will have to work at least five and up to eight years longer than their predecessors, and all will have to pay more in contributions from as early as next April.
The BMA is gearing up for a huge fight against the proposals, with the possibility of a wave of industrial action backed by a collaboration of public-sector unions.
Lord Hutton’s plans follow an exclusive report by Pulse in January that revealed how officials from the Department of Health had already demanded the BMA agree to a rise in the GP retirement age from 60 to 65.
However, his report goes even further, saying the NHS Pension Scheme should be linked to the state pension age, meaning GPs who are due to retire from 2020 will have to work even later, first to 66 and eventually to 68. GPs also face a rise of three percentage points in their contributions.
Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA’s pensions committee, said: ‘The Government can’t do this tomorrow. The soonest by the time we go through negotiations is April 2012.’
Dr Dearden said the BMA was already talking to other public-sector unions whose pensions have been branded ‘untenable’ by Lord Hutton: ‘If we split off it won’t work. We need to stay within the herd to get the greater good. The negotiations are going to be hard.’
BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘Doctors in their late 20s who’d expected to retire at 60 could now have to work to 68. This is particularly unfair as NHS staff signed up to a revised pension only three years ago.’
The BMA is warning of a ‘staff exodus’, as doctors in their 50s – many eligible for early retirement – consider their futures. It warned: ‘GPs, despite being central to Government plans, may be tempted to take 24-hour retirement, allowing them to draw a pension while working reduced hours.’
Pulse recently revealed that accountants were already seeing a jump in GPs taking 24-hour retirement amid speculation about the Government’s plans.
‘If doctors feel pension contributions are too high, many are likely to opt out, potentially destabilising the whole scheme,’ added the BMA.
Dr Mark Feldman, a GP in Romford, Essex, said: ‘Change our terms of service, tax us more, make the job even harder – but don’t mess with my pension. This is a resigning issue.
Dr Michael Edmondson-Jones, a semi-retired GP in Brigg, Lincolnshire, said: ‘I’m now 68, having worked part time from 60. Would I work full time until 68? Would I hell.’
Dr Colette Maule, a GP in Wishaw, Lanarkshire and member of Lanarkshire LMC, has proposed a motion at last week’s Scottish LMCs conference backing Pulse’s No to 65 campaign and said any attempts to force GPs to work beyond 60 would damage recruitment to the profession.
She said: ‘Not only have I planned for retirement, but so have our families and so have our practices. This will have an impact upon younger doctors choosing general practice as a career.
‘I have less than 10 years to go before I reach retirement age. Can I see myself continuing? I don’t know, but I want it to be my choice.’
However, Lord Hutton claimed: ‘The link to the state pension will move the proportion of adult life in retirement back to about a third. A female pensioner in the NHS who retired at 60 in 2010 could expect to spend 45% of their adult life in retirement, compared with 30% in the 1950s.’
Click here to sign our petition No to 65 Dr Colette Maule