More doctors retiring early after pension crackdown
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.