As a BMA report published this week highlighted the risk to general practice from its ageing workforce, GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that even GPs in their 30s were being told by accountants that strict annual allowance pension limits could trigger large tax bills unless they reduced their working hours.
GPonline reported last month that GPs could be offered 'partial pensions' in future to help them avoid breaching pension contribution limits that have seen some doctors facing five-figure tax bills on top of their standard income tax.
Plans to adopt a partial pension mechanism - which exists in other public-sector pension schemes already - have been jointly proposed to the government by the GPC and NHS England, in a move Dr Vautrey said was 'unprecedented'.
Hearing of more doctors in their 30s advised to reduce their NHS working commitment simply because of the punitive annual allowance pension problem. That’s a 30 year loss to the NHS and patients. Time for @hmtreasury to listen to @BMA_GP and @NHSEngland and act to support GPs— Richard Vautrey (@rvautrey) February 28, 2019
Dr Vautrey told GPonline: 'We are seeing this more and more travelling the country for GPC roadshows. GPs are being advised by accountants that if they are working nine sessions they may well find themselves liable to tax charges relating to the annual allowance - and the way to avoid this is to reduce the sessions they do.
'People often think of this as an issue for doctors aged over 50, but doctors in their 30s are being advised to reduce sessions as well. That is one of the reasons we are seeing the full-time equivalent GP workforce falling year on year.'
Dr Vautrey said that the relatively 'flat' career earning trajectory in general practice meant that younger partners could earn similar amounts to GPs later in their careers, and could face a 'significant tax burden' if they carried on working nine sessions a week or taking on extra out-of-hours sessions.
He said the joint call for a partial pension mechanism reflected mutual recognition from NHS England and the BMA that tax charges on pension contributions were a 'major factor' undermining the GP workforce.
Although it was difficult to say exactly how many GPs were earning enough to fall foul of the pension tax charges, a 'great number of GPs' were affected, Dr Vautrey warned.
GPs responding to Dr Vautrey on Twitter highlighted how the issue was affecting them.
It’s a huge issue. I am 36, and work 6.5 pensionable sessions. Any increase, I’m told, and I’d breach the allowance.— Alec Jones (@GPalec) February 28, 2019
I do non pensioned work outside the practice instead, to the detriment of continuity and patient care in the practice.
Every full time GP I know locally has had to either leave the scheme or cut down on work to avoid tax charges. Not one in their 40s not affected. Whole generation with growing resentment and disaffection. Got a workforce problem now? This will ensure it gets worse for 20 years— Dustyn Saint (@DustynSaint) March 1, 2019
GPonline reported earlier this year that numbers of GPs taking early retirement tripled over the past decade, with tighter tax limits pushing doctors to reduce work and ratcheting up pressure on the already-overstretched workforce.