Patients face delayed and cancelled operations and treatment, as well as longer waits before being discharged from hospital unless the government takes urgent action to end the NHS pensions crisis, according to the NHS Confederation.
The warning by the NHS Confederation, which represents leaders across the entire healthcare system, is made in a letter to Chancellor Sajid Javid today (Wednesday 6 November) as the health service gears up for another busy winter.
In the letter, its chief executive, Niall Dickson calls on the Chancellor to address the growing crisis well before the changes that are already planned are due to be rolled out from April.
The Confederation points out that NHS services, including A&E departments and GP surgeries tend to be at their busiest in February and March and says this must be a priority for an incoming Government.
The letter specifically urges the Chancellor to consider a limited measure which would allow any extra hours worked by senior clinical staff delivering front line care to be excluded from the application of the taper if they exceed their full-time contracts. The Confederation has also copied the letter to the main opposition parties.
This follows repeated calls from the NHS Confederation for the tapered annual allowance, introduced in 2016, to be scrapped. The allowance places a limit on how much senior NHS staff can grow their pension pots and causes a tax charge if this is exceeded. It is leaving senior clinicians with no choice but to refuse extra work, including filling gaps in staff rotas, at a time when frontline services are understaffed and busier than ever.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said:
“As the NHS hurtles towards another monumentally busy winter period, we are facing a ticking timebomb where vital shifts might not be filled because of the ongoing pensions crisis.
“We welcome the Department of Health and Social Care’s commitment to introduce changes to the NHS Pensions Scheme for senior doctors but we cannot afford to wait until April for these to be rolled out given that vacancies are high, staff are understandably refusing to take on extra shifts and demand for services is growing.
“We have called repeatedly for the scrapping of the tapered annual allowance but if the Government cannot commit to that, it must explore alternatives to address the current situation, such as allowing any payments to NHS doctors in excess of a full time 40-hour contract to be excluded from consideration in the application of the taper.
“Otherwise, we are facing the very real prospect of patient care and safety being at significant risk over winter.”
Last month, the Royal College of Surgeons of England reported that 68% of consultant surgeons they surveyed are considering early retirement because of the pensions tax issue, 64% have been advised to work fewer hours, and 69% have reduced the amount of time they have spent working in the NHS.
Research commissioned in June by NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, found 42% of those questioned, predominantly consultants, had reduced the number of extra shifts they do as a result of problems.
The Department of Health and Social Care has sought to address this problem by proposing ways for the 650,000 senior clinicians who are part of the NHS Pension Scheme to become more involved in setting and adjusting their contributions throughout the year.
NHS Employers responded to this consultation, calling for other NHS staff not to be overlooked and for them to be granted the same flexibilities as senior doctors when it comes to deciding their annual pension contributions. from any planned changes.