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The decline and fall of the NHS pension scheme

I am writing this in a very brief interlude as I surface for air after my most recent attempt to get any meaningful information from Primary Care Support England (PCSE). You haven’t come across PCSE yet? Well, make sure you are well prepared with a bottle of your favourite tipple, a copy of War and Peace, and a good supply of Rescue remedy before you even think about it.

A first glance at their website suggests they are ’delivering primary care support services’. Unfortunately they fall down on the first word here and this is an ’organisation’ that is clearly unfit for human consumption. It looks as though they are charged with the non delivery of a whole range of services, but I’m only going to focus on one – pensions.

Back in the day, the NHS pension scheme was a thing of beauty, like the crema atop an espresso served in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Perfection. Unbeatable. A reason to be there.

The scheme itself did not make you want to be a GP, but it was certainly a sweetener, and you knew you could work hard, look after people, and you would be OK in later life.

Gradually over time and alongside global financial collapse with successive punitive governments, the benefits of the scheme have started to erode. It is still a good scheme, and for many will continue to serve its purpose, but for an increasing minority, it is becoming a millstone. The problems are many but the main issues are changes to the lifetime and annual allowance. If you couple this with the inability to superannuate just a proportion of your income and a perfect storm can develop. For some of us, when faced with a tax bill that almost exceeds our annual income, the only option is to withdraw from the scheme completely. This brings us back to the PCSE.

I’m no historian but I suspect Darlington will wish to be remembered for anything other than being the site of PCSE head office. I have not had the pleasure of visiting Darlo, but I suspect I will soon as all attempts to email or correspond by post with PCSE are met with no response. The ’national delivery model’ is great on paper until they actually have to deliver something, and we have all seen the success that Capita (who ’run’ PCSE) have had with patient records…

On speaking to them over the phone, they are unable to give a timescale of when I might expect a response, what day it is, whether they have received anything from me, what their role is, or indeed whether the pensions office has any staff in it at all. So now, my pension is not in my control, and in fact is not apparently under control at all, and that is not a great place to be.

So do take a look at your pension options so you know where you stand, and allow plenty of time to make any changes or you may end up scuppered like me, caught in a black hole with rising pension related tax bills and no way of mitigating against it as the system just is not working. I feel as helpless and neglected as a crown at a Queen’s speech.

All in all, the system is a joke. Or it would be if it was funny.

Next patient please.

Dr Richard Cook is a GP partner in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. You can follow him on Twitter @drmoderate