Exodus of doctors from the NHS predicted

An exodus of doctors from the NHS, starting with a retirement surge in 2006, is predicted by the British Medical Association if plans to reduce the value of NHS pensions and increase the normal retirement age from 60 to 65 years, go ahead.

In a statement today (Thursday 10 March) on a survey of doctors' view on the NHS Pension Scheme Review, Mr James Johnson, chairman of the BMA said: "Our members make it very clear there is no support for increasing the normal pension age to 65. The BMA is very firmly against this change."

GPs already have a pension scheme based on career average earnings, but hospital doctors have a final salary scheme. The Pension Scheme Review asks if the career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme should apply to all.

Mr Johnson said: "Over 95% of consultants and 93% of junior doctors in the BMA survey want to stick with their current final salary scheme. Because of the different career structure in general practice, the majority of GPs (75%) in the survey would prefer to continue with their career average pension scheme. The BMA will oppose an extension of the CARE method to all doctors."

So far 3,325 BMA doctors have completed the current BMA pensions survey and over 1,000 have emailed their MPs with their concerns over pension proposals. Last summer (2004) the BMA received nearly 5,000 responses to a first questionnaire on proposed changes to pensions. Of those doctors, 75% said they would leave earlier, or at the same age, as they originally intended if the pension age was increased to 65. More than half thought the increase would be a deterrent to NHS recruitment.

"If the pension proposals are pushed through there will be an exodus of doctors from the health service, not just from the effective date of any change but with immediate effect as disillusioned staff make career choices based on new pension arrangements" said James Johnson. He added : "Our figures suggest there would be a retirement surge in 2006/7 (when the changed pension scheme is due to come in) and in 2013, the proposed year when current staff would come under the changed scheme."

The BMA survey results indicate that the increased pension age would be a huge disincentive to working in the NHS, resulting in more vacancies and a reduction in new recruits to fill them.

While some of the flexibilities proposed in the NHS Pensions Scheme Review are welcomed by doctors, they believe a move to any new scheme must be voluntary and not compulsory. The majority of doctors (66.8%) thought all savings from the changes to the scheme should be used to improve pension benefits.

Dr Andrew Dearden, chairman of the BMA's Pensions Committee, said: "Pensions are deferred pay and a fundamental part of the remuneration package. A reduction in the value of the current pension scheme amounts to a pay cut."

Modelling by the BMA shows that full time consultants with a full NHS career could find their pensions reduced by up to 25% if the proposed CARE pension scheme was imposed.

NHS members of either sex pay the same pension contributions, yet women doctors who worked before 1988 receive no spouse's benefit for pre 1988 service. The BMA has long campaigned for a removal of this arbitrary discrimination. The pension review now seems to be extending this to Civil Registered (same sex) partners. Dr Dearden said: "We will continue to press for this discrimination to be corrected and backdated. The options in the consultation document do nothing to correct the historical inequity. We will continue to campaign for female doctors with service prior to 6 April 1988 to be entitled to the same spouses' benefits as their male colleagues."

The BMA also believes that the special pension status of Mental Health Officers (who work with mentally ill patients) should be protected.

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