One in 10 GPs will quit NHS unless pensions tackled, MPs warn

One in ten GPs will retire within the next 18 months unless the government takes action to stop punitive pension tax charges, a report by MPs warns - amid the 'greatest workforce crisis in NHS history'.

View over Westminster Bridge to parliament
(Photo: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images)

A report from the House of Commons health and social care select committee on recruitment, training and retention in health and social care called on the government to act swiftly to reform the NHS pension scheme to prevent senior staff reducing their hours and retiring early. 

In evidence to the committee the BMA said its modelling showed that 10% of the GP workforce would retire unless action is taken on pensions.

GPs are being driven out of the NHS workforce by punitive tax charges on pensions - a problem exacerbated by rising inflation.

NHS pensions

Doctors’ leaders told the BMA’s annual conference earlier this year that inflation could leave GPs facing pension tax penalties equivalent to half their post tax income for pension growth from which they never benefit.

The BMA has backed calls for GPs to be given tax-unregistered schemes similar to those offered to the judiciary, which would mean doctors did not receive tax relief on pension contributions but that pension earnings would not be tested against the annual or lifetime allowance thresholds but the proposal was rejected by Richard Fuller, economic secretary to the treasury.

The committee’s warning comes as there are fears that the punitive tax charges could push even more GPs out of the profession at a time when their numbers are already in decline.

Health and social care select committee chair Jeremy Hunt said the NHS could not afford to lose any more staff.

Workforce crisis

'We now face the greatest workforce crisis in history in the NHS and in social care with still no idea of the number of additional doctors, nurses and other professionals we actually need,' Mr Hunt said.

‘NHS professionals know there is no silver bullet to solve this problem but we should at least be giving them comfort that a plan is in place. This must be a top priority for the new prime minister.’

BMA pensions committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: 'The health and social care select committee findings are correct - it is indeed a "national scandal" that senior doctors are being driven to reduce their hours or retire early, just when the NHS is facing the "biggest workforce crisis in its history". What is most scandalous is that this is a mess entirely the government’s own doing through its absurd and unfair pension taxation policy - and it is entirely within its gift to solve, quickly.

'It’s good to see the committee taking heed of the BMA’s warnings, and fully recognise that despite the changes to the taper in 2020, there remains an urgent and pressing need for government to solve this issue in order to prevent a further exodus of doctors. It is also vital that there is reform of pension taxation rules so that doctors can maximise the amount of care they can provide to their patients.'

For healthcare workers forced to quit the NHS pension scheme to avoid punitive charges, MPs on the committee called for employers to be mandated to 'recycle' the full value of employer pension contributions into their wages - a measure backed by the DDRB and the BMA.

Dr Sharma added: 'At the BMA we still believe that the long-term solution is a tax unregistered scheme, similar to the one implemented for judges to solve the retention crisis in the judiciary. Such a scheme would remove the disincentives from providing more care for patients and enable doctors to work for longer.'

A DHSC spokesperson said: 'We hugely value and appreciate the dedication and contribution of NHS and social care staff. We are growing the health and social care workforce.

'We have commissioned NHS England to develop a long-term workforce plan to recruit and support NHS staff while they deliver high quality, safe care to patients and help to bust the COVID-19 backlogs.'

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