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Are GP pension tax changes about opening up profession to competition?

Once you get to a certain age, you develop the ability to see things through cynicism-tinted glasses rather than the rose-tinted glasses with which you start your career.

The chancellor’s recently announced changes to the lifetime allowance and the annual allowance effectively reduce the amount of pension that a GP can expect at retirement. Now this is supposed to be about raising more taxes, but another similar-aged colleague suggested that the real reason was something more sinister.

It is difficult for a non-NHS provider to offer pensions comparable to the NHS superannuation scheme, it cannot be part of the NHS scheme, and to attract good members of staff, it has to compete with the NHS scheme which is expensive. The effects of the increasing cost of contributions and reductions in values of final pensions has made the scheme seem less of a perk, and in fact for the first time I can remember, there are GPs and their staff choosing to leave the scheme.

So, the suggestion goes, these latest tax changes are as much about opening up the profession to competition as they are to raise revenue.

The saving grace is that the expectation from the latest contract changes is that GPs’ profits will fall dramatically, from as little as 20% up to possibly 50%. The cost of pensions will fall similarly, and the chance of GPs to get near the limits are more remote. Non-NHS providers will only get involved in primary care if there is the real likelihood of making money, and they must be concerned.

Maybe the suggestion was a little too cynical, although it is easy to understand where the thought came from.

2013 will be a critical year for the future of GPs and it will essential for GPs to stand together to fight the proposed changes that promote mediocrity. From someone who sees general practice as the jewel in the crown of the NHS, I wish you all a happy Xmas and new year ahead.

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