The government has launched a consultation on extending changes to the NHS pension scheme that have made it easier for retired GPs to return to work during the pandemic.
Emergency ‘retire and return’ retirement easements were introduced in March 2020 to allow retired and partially retired GPs and other NHS staff to return to work or increase their working hours, to help pandemic response without having their pension benefits suspended.
The three-week consultation, launched on Sunday, asks whether these temporary retirement easements “should continue beyond the scheduled expiration of October 31, 2022” until April 2023.
The consultation document stated: “Subject to the conclusions of this consultation, the DHSC proposes to file a regulatory instrument, effective from November 1, 2022, to ensure the continuation of temporary easements until March 31, 2023.”
Temporary suspensions The government proposes to continue:
- The 16-hour rule, which requires staff retiring and returning from the 1995 section to work 16 hours per week (two days) or less in the first month after retirement. When staff work beyond this limit, their pension benefits are temporarily suspended until their work commitments are reduced.
- Deduction for SCS members including Mental Health Officers who are eligible to retire from Section 1995 at age 55 instead of 60 with no actuarial reduction in their pension: the deduction applies when staff return to work before age 60 and his pension plus salary exceeds his retirement income.
- Reduction for section 2008 and 2015 plan members who withdraw part of their rights and continue to work: the reduction obliges them to reduce their insured salary by 10% each time they choose to withdraw.
However, the BMA said the consultation is “completely hypocritical” in its suggestion that the “small changes proposed” will have “a significant effect on waiting times and patient experience” on their own.
Dr Vishal Sharma, chairman of the BMA’s pensions committee, said the changes will do nothing to stop the ‘exodus’ of GPs leaving the NHS due to ‘absurd punitive pension tax burdens’.
He said: “It is totally illogical to penalize dedicated staff who wish to return to the NHS after retirement by reducing their pension.
“The BMA therefore fully supports the abolition of these provisions. However, the reality is that this policy only affects a small number of physicians seeking to return after retirement – namely psychiatrists with “mental health officer” status.
The BMA said it had warned the government that the suspension should not be extended but made “permanent”, adding that it was “negligent” to leave consultation on the extension so late.
The consultation will continue until 11:45 p.m. on September 12, 2022.
Meanwhile, Prime Ministerial candidate Liz Truss has pledged to ease tax burdens on GP pensions to stem the outflow of NHS doctors.
The House of Commons health and social care committee has said it is a ‘national outrage’ that GPs are being forced to work less or leave their jobs altogether because of NHS pension rules.