Locum GPs penalised by 'discriminatory' NHS pension reforms

Locum GPs could face significant financial losses under government plans to overhaul rules on pension contributions, in a move the BMA believes is discriminatory.

From 1 April 2019 all NHS pension scheme members will have their tiered contribution rate calculated 'using the same rules', according to a DHSC response to a consultation on the NHS pension scheme.

The move abolishes an exemption for locum GPs known as the 'three-month rule', which protects them from having their pension contributions driven up by 'annualisation'.

BMA leaders say the move 'discriminates particularly against locums' and that because 'many GP locums are from groups who have legally protected characteristics' - ethnic minorities, women, and those with disabilities - it also unfairly penalises these groups. The changes will result in 'annual leave, study leave, sick leave or even a weekend' driving up pension costs for locum GPs, the union has warned.

GP workforce

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline the change would have an unfair impact on locums, and warned that increasing costs for locums could undermine their willingness to take on extra work at a time when general practice faces an ongoing workforce crisis.

Annualisation is used when an NHS pension scheme member's employment does not last a full year to calculate what their annual income would have been if they worked for a whole year - and the level of pension contribution they are expected to make is set on this basis.

Locum GPs have been protected by the so-called three-month rule - which according to the DHSC has meant that in practice breaks of up to six months have been ignored when calculating annual income, helping to keep some locums out of the higher pension contribution tiers.

The BMA warned last year: 'We consider that for as long as the practice of annualising remains, the three-month concession rule for exclusive GP locums must also be retained to prevent this group from being disproportionately negatively impacted by annualising.'

Discrimination

However, the government consultation response rejected the BMA's warning over discrimination against groups with 'legally protected characteristics' - and said that 'if locum GPs were to be from such groups, removing the exemption is justified as exempting locums would place them in a significantly
advantageous position'.

It added: 'The proposal to no longer apply the three-month rule is intended to bring the administration of the NHS pension scheme in line with what is provided for by scheme regulations and provide the same treatment as for the rest of the NHS pension scheme membership. Therefore, all NHS pension scheme members will have their tiered rate calculated using the same rules.'

Dr Vautrey said: 'This has the potential to have a really serious impact. It has a massive impact on the cost of your pension in terms of the banding you find yourself in.

'It will have an unfair impact, and could affect the willingness or ability of doctors to do occasional sessions, and could mean practices have fewer doctors avaiable to support them.'

The DHSC consultation response added: 'Locum GPs are self-employed and therefore do not have annual leave, study leave or sick leave. Such self-employment gives locum GPs further flexibility compared to other scheme members because they can choose whether or not to "pension" individual locum assignments.'

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