Ministers announce overhaul of pensions for top doctors and surgeons
'Proposals will give doctors the pension flexibilities they have called for and need to make sure they are rewarded for extra work,' says health secretary
Top doctors and surgeons will be able to treat more patients without losing out financially, the government has claimed as it overhauls complex pension rules for some of the highest earning NHS staff.
It comes after Boris Johnson said the system of doctors facing "perverse incentives" to reduce hours will come to an end, adding it was wrong they were leaving the NHS due to a fear of large tax bills.
In a joint statement from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Treasury, ministers said new rules would allow NHS employees to scale down their pension contributions without losing employer contributions.
The move follows repeated warnings that changes to the rules introduced in 2016 meant rising numbers of consultants and other senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions.
It was linked to a rise in waiting times as clinicians refused to work beyond their planned hours because of the impact on their finances.
The DHSC will also publish a consultation document proposing "flexibilities" to the pension scheme to ensure that from the next financial year, frontline staff can remain in it without fear of financial penalty.
Sajid Javid, the chancellor, said: "The government is committed to ensuring that British people see a real difference in public services, getting quicker GP appointments, and a reduction in waiting times.
"Critical to that is introducing flexibility into the system so that our hospitals have the staff they need to deliver high-quality patient care, which is why we've listened to concerns and will be reviewing the operation of the tapered annual allowance."
His cabinet colleague, health secretary Matt Hancock, said NHS doctors should "not have to worry" about the tax impacts "if they chose to go the extra mile by taking on additional work to help patients".
"These comprehensive proposals will give doctors the pension flexibilities they have called for and need to make sure they are rewarded for extra work," he added.
"We are taking immediate action and I hope these flexibilities will encourage our top NHS staff to fulfil the dedication of their mission: to care for their fellow citizens in time of need."
The move was welcomed by the British Medical Association (BMA), which has been leading the campaign to get the rules changed, as a "step forward" by the government.
"After a year's tireless lobbying by the BMA on the damaging and perverse effect that this legislation is having on our NHS, its doctors and patients, it is good to see the government finally sitting up and taking notice and proposing action," said BMA council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul.
However the HCSA union, representing hospital doctors, warned that it would not be sufficient to prevent another "winter meltdown" in the NHS.
Dr Claudia Paoloni, the union president, said: "A fifth of senior hospital doctors plan to quit in the next 36 months or have already left as a result of the issue.
"It is bitterly disappointing that the government is resorting to spin and hot air when it has known for many months that the crisis was deepening."
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour's shadow health secretary, said despite ministers promising to boost the number of GPs "we've actually seen the first sustained drop in GP numbers in 50 years".
He added: "Doctors have long been warning that George Osborne's pension changes have undermined their ability to provide the care patients deserve. The truth is cuts and ministerial incompetence have left the NHS struggling to cope with 100,000 staff shortages.
"It is patients who are suffering the consequences with growing waiting lists and cancelled operations. Ministers need to do significantly more to provide the NHS with the staff it needs now and for the future."