BMA fights sexual discrimination in female GP pension rules

BMA lawyers have argued that paying female GPs' widowers a lower pension than widows is blatant sexual discrimination.

In a judicial review taking place at the High Court in London today, the BMA claimed that the law on GP pensions discriminates against widowers.

Under the current rules, when a female GP dies her husband receives a pension based only on contributions made after 1988. However, any payments made before then would be worthless.

But if a male GP leaves a widow, her pension would be calculated on all contributions.

In October 2010, the BMA received the court’s permission for a judicial review on the position of widowers’ pensions in the NHS pension scheme.

The judicial review is now underway with the ‘test case’ of widower Iain Cockburn at it centre, a BMA spokesman said.

Iain Cockburn is the widower of Warwickshire GP Dr Clare Boothroyd, who died of cancer in February 2007.

She joined the NHS pension scheme in August 1982, and was a member for 24 years.

A widow in Mr Cockburn’s situation would receive £3,200 more in annual pension payments than he currently receives.

The case is expected to last two days. The ruling expected next week, a BMA spokesman said.

The DoH said it was unable to comment whilst the court case was taking place.

In his blog Andy Blake, BMA head of pensions, described the difference between GP widow and widower pensions as ‘blatant sexual discrimination’.

He said the outcome of the case had ‘potentially huge implications’ not only for the NHS pension scheme but also for the many other public sector schemes to which the rule applies.

‘A legal victory would also make it hard to justify the application of this regulation to unmarried partners including civil partners, to whom the pre-1988 rules also apply,’ Mr Blake said.


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