Hospital Dr News

Seven out of ten senior surgeons are cutting their hours due to NHS pensions ‘tax trap’

The Royal College of Surgeons is urging the Prime Minister to resolve the NHS pensions ‘tax trap’ after a poll reveals that 69% of consultant surgeons have reduced their hours.

The YouGov survey commissioned by the College also shows that 68% of consultant surgeons are considering early retirement because of the pensions tax, and 64% have been advised to work fewer hours.

Amid record waiting times, the RCS warns that patients will face even longer waits this winter if the Government doesn’t take swift action to resolve the pensions issue.

Many senior doctors have received large and unpredictable tax bills for agreeing to work extra shifts or participate in waiting list initiatives – due to a taper in the NHS pensions scheme.

Subsequent financial or legal advice has been to work less, refrain from taking part in waiting list reduction initiatives, or retire early.

Other figures from the survey include:

  • 61% of consultant surgeons have been advised to refrain from taking part in waiting list reduction initiatives.
  • 31% of consultant surgeons have been advised to retire early.

The NHS waiting list in England stands at a record 4.41 million. In August 2019, more than 660,000 patients were waiting more than 18 weeks to start treatment, including surgery.

Tackling the waiting list backlog has traditionally been achieved through ‘waiting list initiatives’, whereby surgical teams undertake extra work, often during weekends.

Among consultant surgeons who undertook extra operating sessions in the last year, to reduce surgical waiting lists, two thirds (66%) say they will not take on extra sessions this year.

Professor Derek Alderson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said: “The impact of pension tax rule changes on waiting times for surgery are devastating. Surgeons who have previously done many hours of extra work to help reduce waits, are cutting back their hours. Many are considering early retirement.

“Patients already face overly long waits for operations. Persisting with a tax system that punishes clinicians for taking on extra work, will undoubtedly lead to a further deterioration in waiting times.”

The annual allowance taper, introduced in April 2016, lowers the amount of pensions tax relief available to those with a threshold income over £110,000, reducing it from £40,000 to £10,000 over time.

Royal College of Surgeons of England Council member Miss Stella Vig, who is a Clinical Director at Croydon University Hospital, added: “It’s only fair to know how much tax you will have to pay if you work extra shifts. The NHS pensions scheme has created a ‘tax trap’, where accepting an extra shift can lead to a large and entirely unpredictable tax bill landing in the post many months later.

“The Government has published a consultation that looks set to last many more months, rather than taking decisive action.  We need them to sort this out before winter takes hold.”

In addition, the survey revealed that three in five (61%) surgeons are considering reducing their non-clinical commitments because of the rule changes. These include educational and managerial roles.

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