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Two thirds of senior surgeons have cut their hours due to pension tax changes

Poll shows 69% have reduced their hours for fear of being hit by massive tax bills

Caroline White

Friday, 08 November 2019

More than two thirds of consultant surgeons say they have cut back on the amount of time they have spent working in the NHS as a direct result of changes to pension taxation rules, reveal the results* of a poll commissioned by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS).

Prompted by reports that surgeons were reducing working hours or retiring early, with a knock-on effect on waiting times for planned surgery, the RCS asked YouGov to survey members last month to understand the impact of the pension rule changes.

Some 1890 members responded to the survey. Their responses reveal that 69% of consultant surgeons have reduced their hours as a direct result. This coincides with a period of rising and record waiting lists for planned operations, the RCS points out.

What’s more, a similar proportion (68%) are considering early retirement because of the new pension arrangements.

Tackling the waiting list backlog has traditionally been achieved through “waiting list initiatives”, whereby surgeons take on extra shifts beyond the usual five-day week, often during weekends.

But the survey shows that more than six out of 10 (61%) consultant surgeons have received professional or financial advice to refrain from taking part in these initiatives, for fear of being hit with a large tax bill.

The introduction of a taper in the NHS pension scheme in April 2016 meant that growth in income and pension benefits can be taxed repeatedly, sometimes generating bills that are larger than the amount being taxed, says the RCS.

One survey respondent commented: “This is crippling the NHS, stopping consultants from taking in extra work to prevent waiting lists building up. Given current staffing shortages, signing up for extra lists has been an essential way of managing the staffing shortage in order to keep the NHS functioning.”

In a statement, the RCS said: “With a record 4.41 million people on the NHS waiting list in England, we are seriously concerned that the current situation will cause waiting lists for planned surgery to deteriorate further, especially as winter pressure sets in.

“With so many consultant surgeons reducing their operating hours or planning to retire early, we urge the government to act fast to resolve the issue.”

Earlier this week, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges wrote to the chancellor and the health secretary, calling on them to address the pensions tax issue as a matter of urgency.

The letter followed on from an audit of the Academy’s members, which asked them to provide real-life examples of the impact the tax changes were having on urgent and planned patient care.

*RCS Survey on the NHS Pension Scheme: Report of Findings. A report prepared by the Royal College of Surgeons, October 2019.

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