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30-10-2011 | Article

Pension troubles ahead

Just as our patients may find clinical matters hard to understand and trust us to make important decisions for them, pensions can be difficult for many of us to understand. We take it on trust from respected sources such as financial advisors or the British Medical Association (BMA) to advise us on the technicalities of our pension scheme.

Pensions have recently come under the microscope for many working people, not just doctors and healthcare professionals. As people live longer, previously well-funded pension schemes have come under pressure as their potential liabilities build up. Policies are continually being reformed to offer less generous benefits to their subscribers and the NHS pension scheme is no exception.

However, the BMA is not happy with the government's proposals on this, as highlighted again in the univadis GP News (click here). The article states: "The doctors' union explains that contributions have already risen by as much as 42% since the scheme was revised in 2008 - and could rise a further 71% over the next 3 years." In addition, it mentions "a potential 5-8-year increase in the pension age". When the BMA's objections are put like that, it does make you sit up and think - are these changes really necessary or does the government think we are an easy target? I do not have the answer to these questions, but the BMA's response is certainly clear and hints at the threat of industrial action.

However angry the BMA and ourselves are, I doubt if in reality that doctors will down stethoscopes and refuse to stay at their posts and treat patients. I cannot see well-paid doctors striking on the complex issue of pension reforms - and do not believe they will gain any public support or government sympathy if strike action is undertaken.

That leaves us in a difficult position. If we have a grievance over our pensions, apart from shouting and stating our case (and I doubt we will gain much of an audience), I do not think there is much we can do. Of course, that does not mean we ignore the matter. After all, the cuts in pension benefits look significant and most certainly will affect the vast majority of the medical and healthcare workforce.

The BMA has a difficult job here and I hope we can at least support them, even though I do not think industrial action is very likely. If we lose, what could happen is that experienced doctors nearing the end of their careers will jump ship and retire early, resulting in a significant loss to the workforce. Difficult times lie ahead.

Best wishes,

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief univadis

By Dr Harry Brown