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Now it’s our turn! Nurses demand the NHS pension flexibility that’s been promised to consultants

While nurses struggle to pay into scheme, ministers plan to ease rules for NHS high earners

While nurses struggle to pay into scheme, ministers plan to ease rules for NHS high earners


Picture: iStock

Nursing unions are demanding NHS pension reform be widened out to include nurses after the government announced help to the highest-earning staff.

The overhaul is promised in England and Wales after pension rules were blamed for deterring senior doctors from taking on additional shifts for fear of hefty tax bills.

Row over consultants’ working hours and tax bills

Doctors’ union, the British Medical Association (BMA), said rising numbers of consultants and senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions. This, the BMA argued led to a rise in waiting times as clinicians refused to work beyond their planned hours.

‘Thousands of low-paid staff leave the scheme because they struggle to afford it. The government should pay similar attention to this problem… to give staff on far lower earnings a more comfortable retirement’

Sara Gorton, head of health, Unison

Now under proposed changes, senior staff will decide their level of pension accrual at the start of each year. This will allow them to take on additional work without breaching their annual allowance.

The change will also allow staff to receive pension contributions their employer would have made, directly into their salary.

NHS pension row – the story so far

  • A rule change in 2016 introduced a tapered annual allowance restricting pension growth for individuals earning more than £110,000 a year before tax applied
  • Allowance for highest paid gradually falling, meaning senior staff are more likely to be liable for annual tax charge on contributions and lifetime allowance tax charge on their benefits
  • Some consultants were reported to have re-mortgaged their homes to cover their tax bills, while others faced the choice of cutting their hours, opting out of the NHS scheme, or taking early retirement

 

Tax changes need to go beyond elite few to benefit nurses too

But the RCN and Unison said with many nurses struggling to afford their NHS pension payments, the proposed changes need to go further than helping an elite few.

RCN national officer Nicola Lee said nurses should also have the right to decide their level of pension accrual.

'More people should see the advantages of these considerable changes than just high-earning doctors managing their tax liabilities,’ she said.

'We know that the taxation problem affects very senior nurses, but other members have also told us they’ve considered leaving the NHS scheme because they cannot afford payments even though they know this puts them at a disadvantage when they retire.

‘We want full pension flexibility for all NHS staff to make the health service’s pension scheme attractive and affordable to all.'


Sara Gorton, head of health
at Unison

‘It looks like government is favouring the highest earners in the NHS’

Unison head of health Sara Gorton agreed, arguing the current proposals looked like the government was prioritising higher earners in its pension strategy.

'At the other end of the pay scale, thousands of low-paid staff leave the scheme because they struggle to afford the payments,' she said.

‘The government should also be paying similar attention to this problem and introducing flexibility to give staff on far lower earnings a more comfortable retirement.'

Department of Health and Social Care to consult on proposals

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) will open a consultation on the proposals shortly.

Its spokesperson declined to comment on the unions’ demand for proposed changes to be extended.

The proposals do not yet apply to Scotland or Northern Ireland but the devolved administrations could choose to implement them if they are adopted in England and Wales. 


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