Hospital Dr News

BMA calls for 2% “catch up” consultant pay rise following government’s restraint

Consultants have called for NHS staff pay to be restored to an average growth rate of 2% above inflation when the current period of pay restraint ends.

This was agreed at the BMA Consultants Conference which heard that since the financial crisis of 2008 NHS staff pay has been eroded by successive annual pay freezes, failure of ministers to implement the recommendations of the Pay Review Body, increases in pension contributions and tax changes.

One speaker said it was clear that the Government wanted to pay for the expansion of the NHS by eroding staff pay.

“In simple terms you can borrow – or some might say, steal – from your staff during a period of austerity. But this is not a long-term strategy that will work and when austerity ends you have to pay your loans back. Just as the government used taxpayers’ money to pour billions into propping up the UK banks and is now well on its way to returning that money to the taxpayer as the banking sector recovers, so it must begin to return to NHS staff their lost 2% of pay a year in real terms since 2008,” he said.

Consultant pay rise

The conference agreed that the BMA must enshrine this principle in policy, of restoring pay to historical growth levels, and must work together with the other NHS staff unions to achieve this.

Consultants also expressed concern about changes to the UK pension tax regime which disproportionately impacts on consultants and could force many to retire prematurely.

In a three part motion the conference agreed:

  • To support consultants who have paid large amounts of money in Annual Allowance tax charges after the award of a Clinical Excellence Award (CEA) only to have the future theoretical pension benefit, on which they have paid that tax, withdrawn.
  • To campaign to have such final salary pension benefits protected if CEAs are withdrawn.
  • To campaign for the option for NHS staff who leave the NHS Pension Scheme, or retire prior to their normal pension age, but who remain working in the NHS, to have a right to take an additional salary payment equal to and in lieu of the employer’s contribution.

Dr Ian McNab from the Oxford region said it was a complex issue but illustrated it with his own circumstances in which 12 months ago he was awarded a national bronze CEA in the same year that he reached the penultimate point on the consultant salary scale.

He was then trapped by both Annual Allowance and Lifetime Allowance tax deductions. He ended up with a tax bill which equated to 50% of his NHS basic salary and had to take out a loan in order to pay it. The punitive tax calculation of the Lifetime Allowance also meant that he would have to come out of the NHS pension scheme, freezing his benefits at a level lower than he had previously expected.

“It’s only fair therefore that my employer, who is now going to be saving 14% because he is not going to be making any pension contributions, should share some of that windfall to allow me to make other investments that are going to compensate for the losses that I’m going to sustain.

“There are many consultants who will fall into these traps, many of them unexpectedly, and it’s going to become an increasing problem,” he warned.

Dr Trevor Pickersgill from Wales, said: “It is iniquitous that people can pay a lot of money for a benefit that some of them never actually receive, it’s simply not right.”

The conference also called for a contractual performance related pay system to be introduced in Northern Ireland. New CEAs have not been paid to consultants in Northern Ireland since 2009.

The conference heard that since 2009 the proportion of consultants in Northern Ireland who hold at least one CEA has dropped from 50% to 34%.

“If doctors in the rest of the UK continue to be paid more for doing the same job that doctors in Northern Ireland do it will be intensely difficult to retain and recruit doctors to work in Northern Ireland”, said Dr Sara Hedderwick.

Watch the debate here.

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