More doc­tors re­tir­ing early af­ter pen­sion crack­down

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Laura Don­nelly health edi­tor

THE num­ber of se­nior doc­tors tak­ing early re­tire­ment has al­most tripled fol­low­ing a clam­p­down on multi-mil­lion­pound pen­sion pots, new fig­ures show.

Al­most 1,000 GPS and hos­pi­tal con­sul­tants opted to re­tire early last year, com­pared with 384 a decade ago.

It fol­lows changes to pen­sion rules, with the cap on how much savers can amass with­out be­ing taxed fall­ing from £1.8mil­lion in 2012 to £1mil­lion.

Some se­nior doc­tors fac­ing hefty tax bills have said it is not worth their while to stay on, while oth­ers have made plans to pro­tect pen­sions by work­ing part-time. Record clo­sures of 138 GP prac­tices have af­fected 500,000 pa­tients in the past year.

The sta­tis­tics from the NHS Busi­ness Ser­vices Au­thor­ity show that in 201819, 983 hos­pi­tal con­sul­tants and GPS be­gan claim­ing their pen­sion be­fore the age of 60, com­pared with 384 in 2008-09. The num­ber tak­ing re­tire­ment be­cause of ill health rose to 203, com­pared with 54 a decade ear­lier.

Doc­tors said they were leav­ing early be­cause it was un­eco­nom­i­cal to con­tinue work­ing and they were fed up with the lev­els of stress they faced.

But crit­ics said tax­pay­ers were los­ing out be­cause they were suf­fer­ing short­ages of doc­tors while fund­ing “gold­plated pen­sions”.

Min­is­ters have re­peat­edly pledged to in­crease the GP work­force by 5,000 by 2020, but since the prom­ise was first made, in 2015, the num­bers have ac­tu­ally fallen by around 1,000.

Ear­lier this month an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Pulse mag­a­zine re­vealed that 138 surg­eries had closed in the past year, af­fect­ing around 500,000 pa­tients. Some of the clo­sures in­volved merg­ers to form larger prac­tices.

And a census by the Royal Col­lege of Physi­cians last year found 45 per cent of ad­ver­tised con­sul­tant posts go­ing un­filled, due to short­ages. Mean­while, one in four se­nior doc­tors was work­ing

part-time, the re­search found. Last month the British Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (BMA) wrote to the Trea­sury, rais­ing fears that most se­nior doc­tors will opt to cut their hours or re­tire early be­cause of the tax bills they face.

Dr David Wrigley, BMA coun­cil deputy chair­man, said: “These stark fig­ures mir­ror our own re­search and what mem­bers are telling us ev­ery day about their in­ten­tions. Ex­pe­ri­enced doc­tors are work­ing in­cred­i­bly hard in GP prac­tices and hos­pi­tals across the coun­try to pro­vide the best qual­ity care for their pa­tients, but do so un­der in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances and in the face of in­tense sys­tem pres­sures.”

He said pa­tients would suf­fer un­less ac­tion was taken to re­duce doc­tors’ work­loads and over­haul the tax reg­u­la­tions on pen­sions.

The union is call­ing for the scrap­ping of the ta­pered an­nual al­lowance, among other tax re­forms.

Cal­cu­la­tions by the union sug­gest that a se­nior doc­tor work­ing a three and a half day week could end up with an an­nual pen­sion of £65,000, which would drop to £55,000 if they worked a full week.

The sit­u­a­tion has arisen be­cause of a com­bi­na­tion of tax changes, in­clud­ing cuts to an­nual lim­its on pen­sion savings. A limit of £10,000 for those earn­ing above £150,000 lands high earn­ers with yearly tax bills on money they have no ac­cess to un­til they re­tire. The taper also af­fects those earn­ing more than £110,000 a year.

Other charges af­fect savers who breach the life­time al­lowance on pen­sions, which fell to £1mil­lion in the last bud­get. Doc­tors who go above this sum will be ex­posed to a 55 per cent tax charge when they with­draw pen­sions.

A spokesman said the Depart­ment of Health and So­cial Care would be “con­sult­ing on pro­pos­als to make NHS pen­sions more flex­i­ble for se­nior clin­i­cians, in re­sponse to ev­i­dence that shows this is­sue is hav­ing a di­rect im­pact on re­ten­tion and front-line ser­vice de­liv­ery.”

An NHS Eng­land spokesman said it had pub­lished a strat­egy to re­cruit more staff and im­prove re­ten­tion.

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