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Pensions, commissioning and dispensing

PENSIONS 

Q: I have just started working in the private sector and I am no longer eligible to contribute to the NHS Pension Scheme. I paid contributions into the NHS scheme for five years, so if I become eligible for it again, would my past contributions be added to any new ones? If I do not contribute ever again, would I be eligible for an NHS pension at retirement? I would also like to know if I can claim a refund of my NHS contributions if I formally pull out of the scheme.

A: If you rejoin the NHS Pension Scheme, past membership will be amalgamated with new/ongoing membership.

If you do not rejoin the scheme, your existing benefits will be deferred and can be taken at any time between 50 and 70.

Benefits taken before age 60 will, however, be subject to early retirement factors that will reduce its value. In deferment, benefits will be increased each year by the rate of inflation to protect their value.

Deferment takes place automatically if the member does not rejoin within 12 months of leaving the scheme.

If retirement planning is an important objective, then it would be prudent to consider making some provision to ensure there will be sufficient income and assets available in the future to maintain your desired lifestyle.

Kevin Quinn

COMMISSIONING

Q: Our PCT has advised that we will only be allocated our efficiency gains under practice-based commissioning (PBC) if it achieves financial balance. Can you confirm what proportion of our efficiency gains our PCT can keep to cover its overspend?

A: 'Achieving Universal Coverage', published in January by the DoH states that for 2006/7, practices are entitled to access and redirect at least 70 per cent of any freed-up funding.

The remaining balance can be used by the PCT to meet a wider need.

However, where there are overspends, this 30 per cent can be used to offset them. Not all service improvements can be organised by an individual practice.

It may be appropriate for efficiency gains to be shared with the PCT to benefit a wider group of patients.

Maggie Marum

VACCINATIONS

Q: In a recent answer regarding travel vaccinations, you said that GPs can charge registered patients for influenza jabs if they are under 65 and not in an at-risk group. Is this strictly applied to travel only, or can we charge patients if they simply want an influenza vaccination and do not fit into an at-risk category?

A: This is essentially the same scenario as hepatitis B vaccination: if it is for travel, you can charge, but not otherwise.

The only fee you can claim is personally administering the vaccine. Remember that with a potential shortage of vaccine this year, we should be targeting at risk groups and only vaccinating the 'worried well' if there is adequate supply.

However, there is nothing to stop you having a reciprocal arrangement with another practice to provide flu vaccine privately to non-registered patients, and charging a fee.

Tim Kimber

DISPENSING

Q: Does dispensing break EU or UK competition laws? I am a GP at a busy suburban practice that cannot dispense because of its geographical location. Five miles up the road is another practice that can dispense, and because of the income generated from dispensing, it is able to employ more doctors and staff and thus work less hard than we do? Why should my patients and my practice be penalised?

A: My understanding is that the current dispensing regulations do not breach competition law. The regulations were changed three years ago to increase the competition surrounding licences enabling entry into the market for dispensing.

The amendments included new conditions that need to be met on opening hours and/or size of practice. If the practice qualifies on either count, it can apply for a dispensing licence. The practice should bear in mind that the dispensing part of its services needs to be run as a business, and is not guaranteed to make a profit.

Dr Mo Dewji

TAX RELIEF

Q: Can I claim tax relief on 14 per cent employer superannuation contributions, which is part of the global sum and considered a GP's income?

A: Yes, you can claim tax relief on the 14 per cent employer's superannuation contributions which have been paid in the tax year.

The tax relief is claimed on your tax return in the same way that your 6 per cent superannuation is claimed.

Jenny Stone

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