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GPs must make their voice heard on pensions

It has been four months since the day of action, but most of the debate on NHS pensions hasn’t moved on from the events of June 21. On the Pulse forums, GPs continue to express a range of conflicting views about whether we were justified in taking industrial action at all, whether we went too far or not far enough and whether the ‘urgent and necessary care only’ model was the right one.

While I believe that the action was a qualified success – insofar as it allowed thousands of GPs to demonstrate their anger without letting down their patients – we shouldn’t forget that it won’t be the only way for us to make our case. 

For the best part of a year, we tried hard, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to engage the Government in meaningful negotiations and we continue to take part in discussions – the BMA is represented on the new joint review group looking at the impact of working longer, for example.

Next week, MPs will for the first time debate the Public Service Pensions Bill. Essentially, the Government wants to bring all public sector pensions together under a common legal framework, but it’s a far-reaching piece of legislation that would grant the Treasury sweeping new powers, potentially allowing it to subject your pension to yet more ‘reform’ in future.

We have just published an in-depth analysis of public sector pension reform, which looks in forensic detail at the unfair variations it would entrench. 

It shows how there are three forms of unfairness in the Government’s approach:

  • Lack of fairness in the overall approach to public sector pension reform, such as the fact that the Government seems to have conveniently forgotten that it is already generating £250 billion worth of savings by 2060 by changing the indexation method from RPI to CPI.
  • Lack of fairness across public sector schemes, with many NHS staff paying a higher proportion of their salaries toward pension benefits than workers elsewhere in the public sector (including MPs). This hits doctors particularly hard, with the highest earners paying almost twice as much as civil servants on similar salaries.
  • Lack of fairness within the NHS pension scheme, including the fact that the Government has ignored the huge changes that were agreed in 2008 to NHS pensions, and that higher-paid NHS staff will get much less from the scheme per pound invested than lower-paid workers because of the steep tiering of contributions.

We must now make those disparities clear to MPs, and to urge them to make changes to the Bill.

If you’re a BMA member and haven’t already used our new lobbying tool to contact your MP, please do so.  He or she needs to know that – whether or not we’re taking industrial action – GPs aren’t happy with what the Government is doing to our pensions.

Dr David Bailey is deputy chair of the BMA Pensions Committee and a GP in Gwent