Power to freeze pensions for doctors facing unproven charges 'against natural justice'

Powers that allow the health secretary to suspend NHS pension benefits for doctors facing criminal charges before they have been convicted are 'against natural justice', medico-legal experts have warned.

NHS pensions warning (Photo: Tim Grist Photography/Getty Images)
NHS pensions warning (Photo: Tim Grist Photography/Getty Images)

Under existing legislation, where an NHS doctor has been convicted of some types of serious crime, the health secretary has 'power to direct that part or all of their pension benefits be forfeited'.

But following a consultation the government is pressing ahead with an overhaul that will enable the health secretary to suspend NHS pension benefits for doctors when they are charged - before any conviction is confirmed.

Ministers are pushing through the changes despite opposition from the BMA, which warned in response to a government consultation that the move 'risks unfairly subjecting innocent members to hardship' and was 'neither necessary nor proportionate'.

Natural justice

Medical Protection, one of the three main providers of medical indemnity for GPs, has now written to health minister Stephen Hammond to warn that the reforms are 'against natural justice'.

Medical Protection medical director Dr Rob Hendry said: 'If this proposal goes ahead, it could mean that doctors facing unproven allegations would find that their pension rights were put at risk prior to any conviction being made.

'Doctors are increasingly working under pressure and are understandably concerned about the possible consequences for them when things go wrong. Doctors may face sanctions from their employer, reputational damage in the media and restrictions on their licence to practise. These new proposals will only add to the profession’s fear of being exposed to excessively punitive consequences if they make an unintentional error.'

Responding to the government consultation, the BMA said: 'We believe that the proposed new power is neither necessary nor proportionate and should be abandoned. Alternatively, such a power should be limited either by reference to the length of time of the suspension (having regard to the potential length of criminal proceedings) or by reference to the amount of benefits that may be suspended (having regard to the risk of hardship).'

Pension reform

GP leaders have also hit out at the impact of NHS pensions changes on locums, warning that the reforms are discriminatory and could leave this group of GPs facing significant financial losses.

Changes enforced by the government will also see a sharp rise in employer contributions from this year, although the government has said these costs will be covered.

The BMA is currently taking legal action against the government over two aspects of NHS pensions - to demand full death-in-service rights for locum doctors and challenging earlier changes to the scheme that it believes amount to age discrimination.

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