The NHS pension was one good reason why most of us have continued to work and support the NHS.
However, the dramatic changes the Government are making have left many, especially young GPs like myself, feeling disgruntled, under-valued and wary of the future.
After just four years of increasing our pension contributions – an act which was a so-called ‘once-in-a-generation change for GP pensions’, the government have now gone back on their word and are re-juggling our pension scheme yet again.
What is next? In another five years or after a change in government will there be another major overhaul to the NHS pension scheme?
Personally, I find frequent changes to pension arrangements very unsettling and they are contradictory to long term financial planning.
What is more insulting is that this pension reform is not about the affordability of pensions as claimed by the government. In fact, according to the BMA Chairman, the NHS pension scheme has been projected to generate over £10billion surplus over the next five years. This will comfortably line the pockets of the Treasury and effectively help to reduce the Government’s spending deficit.
How will young GPs be affected? Well for a start, we will be working longer (until age 68) and paying much more in pension contributions (£161,000 lifetime contribution if one is a 40 year old GP).
Our pension contributions were increased just four years ago and the idea of these figures rising to as much as 14.5% of our salary in 2015 is quite concerning.
We stand the most to lose. Indeed the ‘older generation of GPs’ seem to have reaped all the benefits of the old scheme including the automatic tax-free lump sum, which many have withdrawn from the pension pot and then continued to work after retirement.
This benefit was removed in 2008. So inadvertently the younger GPs will be working for longer and paying almost double in contributions to finance the older generations’ pension schemes, as well as their own.
The prospect of having to work until one is 68 is very daunting. This is not only because of the challenging nature of general practice, which is becoming more demanding as patients’ expectations rise, consultation times shorten and QOF targets increase.
And what about my brain at 70? It is worth stating here that members of the police and firefighter pension schemes are allowed to keep a retirement age of 55 years. In my mind this is grossly unfair, given that the stress in our profession is no less than theirs.
Our work is both physically and emotionally draining, sometimes at the cost of our personal life. We have trained hard for several years, put in the countless hours, nightshifts, and weekends not to mention dealing with difficult managerial issues.
Unlike the private sector, there are very few perks in our vocation, but the NHS pension scheme helped to compensate for this. Now the government are changing it in such a way that this pension reform feels more like a ‘tax’ on healthcare professionals.
Unfortunately, our union has limited collective bargaining power with the government because ultimately we will never compromise patient care.
I think it is important for us to stand united in our challenge against the pension reform because if the government are allowed to make ad-hoc changes to our two-way contract whenever they wish, then it opens the floodgates to further dramatic changes in the future.
Young GPs are the hardest hit – the idea of working for eight years longer and putting in an extra few hundred thousand pounds across our lifetime contributions is perturbing.
Not to mention the lack of consistency shown by the government… Who knows when they might change the NHS pension scheme again.
There’s a long road ahead, and a rough ride.
Dr. Juhi Tandon is a GP at Hampstead Group Practice, North London