Crisis over Suffolk GP shortage made worse by NHS pensions controversy, says MP
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A shortage of GPs in Suffolk is being made worse by controversial changes to NHS pensions which penalise the county’s best doctors, an MP has claimed.
Dr Dan Poulter said the area's most experienced doctors are being "forced out" by heavy new tax penalties levied at the highest-earning workers.
A HM Treasury spokesman said a review into the issue, started in August 2019, will report back at March 11's Budget.
The department also said reforms to pensions made since 2010 have saved the public purse £7billion a year.
However Dr Poulter, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP, said the changes brought in a few years ago are particularly unfair on those who take on extra work - and therefore earn more - to help plug staff shortfalls.
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The effect, he said, is that the health service is "losing a number of experienced clinicians who are effectively being forced out due to the pension change".
NHS figures published ahead of clinical commissioning group (CCG) board meetings this week showed a "sudden decline" in Suffolk and north Essex GPs in the first quarter of the current financial year.
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While there was a slight recovery between June and September, the area was left with 446 full-time equivalent GPs excluding trainees in September 2019, compared to 478 a year earlier.
David Pannell, chief executive of Suffolk GP Federation, said: "The reduction in Suffolk's GP numbers has been expected because a significant portion are now entering retirement age."
Dr Poulter, who works part-time as an NHS mental health doctor alongside his duties in the House of Commons, said: "Talking to Suffolk GPs, there's been considerable problems created by the NHS pensions issue.
"A number of GPs have decided that they don't want to be penalised for saving for their retirement, so they may as well take their retirement earlier.
"More established, senior doctors that have been there a long time are choosing the retire when perhaps they don't want to.
"They are effectively paying for the privilege of working and that's pushed many who are close to retirement."
The Treasury spokesman added: "We want people to save into a pension, which is why we allow the majority of savers to make contributions tax-free and 95% of people approaching retirement have a pension pot worth less than the lifetime allowance.
"We keep the tax system under constant review and make changes at Budget, in the context of the wider public finances."
Dr Poulter, who has represented Central Suffolk and North Ipswich since 2010, said he had raised the issue with the previous chancellor, Sajid Javid.
Talking about the upcoming Budget on March 11, he added: "The biggest thing the government can do is to sort out the pensions issue."