Doctors voice concern over hike in pension costs

Scottish GP leaders are seeking “concrete reassurance” from the Scottish Government that medical practices will not have to foot the bill for a proposed increase in employer pension contributions.

Dr Laura Holden said any increase would have a knock-on effect on trying to recruit doctors into general practice.

GP partners are up in arms at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency proposal to increase the employer pension contribution by 6 per cent from 14.9 per cent to 20.9 per cent from 1 April.

The partners are responsible for paying this on behalf of their staff and it comes out of their overall profits. They are concerned that these changes exacerbate the recruitment and retention crisis as it may be more beneficial to stay as a hospital doctor in the NHS where there are no overheads like the employer contribution and building costs.

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Dr Andrew Buist, the new chair of the Scottish GP Committee (SGPC), used his first blog to highlight the issue.

GP partners are up in arms at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency proposal to increase the employer pension contribution to 20.9 per cent from 1 April.

He wrote: “As soon as we heard of this issue at SGPC, it was clear that this substantial increase in costs could be hugely damaging for GP practices across Scotland.

Buist added: “Our priority in negotiating the new GP contract with the Scottish Government has always been to improve the sustainability of practices and a substantial increase in costs to practice would clearly run counter to this. ”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “As the BMA knows, we continue to press the UK Government to meet the full cost implications of the pension contribution rate change.”

‘Knock-on effect will hit recruitment’

Dr Laura Holden has been a GP for 28 years and works in Anstruther, Fife. As a partner she will see her employer contributions rise by 6 per cent from the 14.9 per cent that she currently pays to 20.9 per cent from 1 April if the proposed Scottish Public Pensions Agency changes take effect.

Holden said any increase would have a knock-on effect on trying to recruit doctors into general practice. She said: “GPs are unique and we’re having to pay both parts, so for us it’s a massive hike in our contributions. The basic issue that I want to bring attention to is that they [the Scottish Government] brought out this new contract which sounds really good for GPs.

“We’re low in numbers with 24 per cent of practices having a vacancy for over six months.

“The last thing the SNP brought in was really good it looked like it was going to help GPs out and make it easier for us so that it would look more attractive than the hospital job. But if they bring this in it means you’re going to be penalised again and I can see that stopping doctors from becoming GPs.

“We have to pay for our own staff so we would have to pay this extra money. So, if you’re looking at an average practice of 10,000 patients the bill could be an extra £50,000 per year as from 1 April. We get paid an amount per patient and then for extra services on top.

“The amount of patients a practice has will give you an idea of the income – and pension contributions are a major cost. We employ the staff, receptionists and nurses – we’re quite a small practice with six GPs, three of whom are part-time – so for us it’s going to be around £40,000 more each year.”

She added: “If you’re a young doctor why would you come into general practice with all this and the extra costs? You can earn basically a fifth more by staying in the hospital.”