Temporary pension changes that made it easier for retired to GPs to return to the NHS during the pandemic could be extended until next April following a Government consultation.
The Government launched a three-week consultation earlier this week into whether the ‘retire and return’ pension easements ‘should continue beyond the planned expiry on 31 October 2022’ until 31 March 2023.
The NHS pension scheme changes were introduced in March 2020 as an emergency measure during the pandemic.
They allowed retired and partially retired GPs and other NHS staff to return to work, or increase their working hours, to help with the pandemic response without having their pension benefits suspended.
Among other measures, the Government proposes to continue the suspension of the 16-hour rule. This requires staff who retire and return from the 1995 section to work 16 hours a week (two days) or less in the first month after retirement. Where staff work more than this limit, their pension benefits are temporarily suspended until their working commitments are reduced.
But the BMA said that, while it supported the end to the restrictions, the changes would do nothing to prevent GPs leaving the NHS because of punitive pensions tax charges.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA pensions committee chair, said: ‘It is completely illogical to penalise dedicated staff who wish to return to the NHS after retiring by reducing their pension.
‘The BMA therefore fully supports the abolition of these arrangements. However, the reality is that this policy only affects a small number of doctors seeking to return post-retirement – namely psychiatrists with ‘mental health officer’ status.’
Dr Sharma said that pension taxation was ‘a far, far greater issue impacting the most experienced NHS professionals, and it is a long-term solution to this that will have the greatest impact on tackling the record waiting list and bolstering the NHS for what looks set to be another horrific winter for the health service’.
The BMA has called for urgent changes to the Finance Act to fix issues caused by high inflation. In the long term, it wants to see the introduction of a tax unregistered pension scheme for senior NHS staff, similar to that introduced for Judges to address their own recruitment and retention problems.
The consultation will run until 11.45pm on 12 September 2022.