Exclusive: BMA split over how to tackle £80m GP pensions threat

GP leaders are split over how to respond to the latest assault on funding, with one GPC negotiator saying little can be done about government attempts to 'squeeze' GPs with new pension rules.

Dr Holden: 'We are paying a very high price for a piece of political stupidity.’
Dr Holden: 'We are paying a very high price for a piece of political stupidity.’

The BMA warned last week GPs would be hit by £80m in extra National Insurance (NI) contributions from 2016 following the abolition of the second state pension. The move will mean the end of NI rebates for NHS Pension Scheme members, who do not qualify for the second state pension. GP employers face higher NI employer contributions.    

But negotiator Dr Peter Holden told GP the ‘stupidity’ of industrial action over pensions in 2012 had ‘devalued’ the profession’s argument over the issue and weakened public sympathy, so GPC was not in a position to resist the changes.

Dr Holden described the move as an ‘unfair tax that picks off GPs’. ‘This is just about trying to squeeze a bit more out of us’, he said. ‘But there is no point making a fuss about it now.’

‘It is worth us raising the issue, as a point of principle. But because of the stupidity of the day of action, that devalued our argument; we are not now in a position to do anything about this’. He added: ‘We are paying a very high price for a piece of political stupidity.’

But deputy chairman of the BMA pensions committee and until last month GPC’s lead pensions negotiator, Dr David Bailey, said Dr Holden was wrong to suggest little could be done.

Dr Bailey said the threat of a ‘significant’ additional cost to GPs should be at the top of the GP contract negotiations agenda.

The cost should be covered by government not GPs, he said: ‘It is clearly recognised that this is a new cost. The precedent has been set that the cost was put into the global sum originally when the responsibility for employers’ payments went onto practices.

‘If it doesn’t put it in, we will be basically getting a 1% pay cut which is not being visited on any other doctors, which cannot be right.’

Dr Bailey said this was a ‘completely different issue’ to last year’s pensions dispute.

‘This is about us making more contributions for staff pensions, and the staff are there for the running of primary care. There is a clear precedent in 2004 that government recognised this was a cost that had to be met.’

Dr Holden argued that the public and media backlash against ‘gold plated’ public sector pensions meant there would be little public support for GPs resisting this latest attack.

But, he added: ‘Gold plated or not, our pensions are good because we have paid into them. We contribute to them, whereas some public sector pensions are non-contributory.’

BMA chairman, Dr Mark Porter, told Treasury minister Danny Alexander the costs would be ‘impossible’ for practices to meet, and called for an increase in funding.

Mr Alexander responded that he recognised the impact on GPs and that would be taken into account in future spending decisions.

Money Talks blog: How GP pension arrangements are changing

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