Temperature rises over NHS pension proposals

I am honoured that one reader of Hospital Dr has suggested that by emulating Lady Godiva I might encourage the government to amend its plans for pension reform. I am not quite sure what would be the more unappealing – my appearance in a batman outfit on the balcony of Buckingham Palace (as proposed by the editor of this illustrious website) or stripping off and riding naked on the back of a white horse into the sunset.

There’s a pun in there somewhere about working in my members interests – but let’s not go there! I am however quite prepared to protest over the unfairness of the pension reforms as they affect senior hospital staff. So whilst I have not (recently at any rate) visited a fancy dress shop or been sized for a one-piece, skin-coloured, body stocking, I have instead spent time assessing the mood of HCSA members. Through our online survey I was genuinely distressed to hear how angry many of the responses have been.

Let me give you a few examples from consultants:

“I am prepared to go on strike and hand in an undated letter of resignation. This is theft – pure and simple.”

“The current NHS pension scheme is in surplus and self-financing. Hospital consultants will be particularly disadvantaged.”

“I am very, very angry that I and many others will be penalised for having listened to repeated government exhortations to provide and save for my old age only to find my financial planning shot away.”

“These changes represent a breach of promise on government’s own calculator persuading me to change to the ‘new’ scheme in 2008.”

And so they go on in similar vein. Whilst I cannot pledge to take my clothes off by way of protest I will certainly do whatever I can to get one fundamental message across.

It’s this: senior hospital doctors will be particularly badly hit when it comes to pension reform. They are enduring a pay freeze (and therefore basic pension contributions) for three years, have seen an additional 10% tax burden and £1k a year rise in National Insurance. They now face the prospect of paying up to 6% more in pension contributions in return for substantially less pension income on retirement.

Unlike GP’s and other health workers whose earnings rise rapidly in the early stage of their careers, hospital doctors cannot reach the top of their salary scale until they have been in post for a considerable time – in the case of a consultant, for at least 19 years. A pension therefore based on career average earnings has a distorting and disproportionate impact – one that is clearly unfair and inequitable.

I will be making these, and other points, to all the politicians at their party conferences. But as I write this I am becoming increasingly angry at the unfairness of what is being proposed. So perhaps I just might change my mind and do a ‘Lady Godiva’. Anyone care to join me?

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