Health

NHS to pay tax bills to get doctors back to work

Surgeons performing an operation Image copyright PA Media

Doctors in England have been promised their tax bills will be covered by the NHS in an attempt to get them back doing overtime shifts.

Doctors have been refusing to do extra work because they were being landed with bills after changes to how much can be accrued in pensions tax-free.

Senior NHS figures and ministers have signed off on the plan amid concern about the impact on waiting times.

Waiting times have hit their worst levels on record.

The data released last week showed delays in A&E and for routine operations were at their highest levels since targets were introduced more than a decade ago.

The row over the pension changes is considered to be just one factor in that.

But NHS leaders have been pushing ministers to agree to a short-term fix with pressure growing ahead of winter.

Image copyright Getty Images

The proposal will mean doctors can take money out of their pension pots to pay the tax bills they get next year.

The NHS will then top up their pension pots before retirement, meaning the cost of the measure to the health service will be spread out over time while doctors will not be out of pocket.

The emergency measure will only apply for the 2019-20 tax year.

The Treasury is still looking at how the pension changes have been implemented in an attempt to find a long-term solution ahead of the start of the next financial year in April.

How have the pension rules changed?

The amount people can put into pensions tax free has been reduced for all workers.

In 2010-11 it was £255,000, but has now been cut to £40,000 a year - and drops still further for the highest earners.

The changes tends to affect those earning more than £110,000, around a third of senior doctors and GPs.

A number of short-term fixes have already been tried, including allowing staff to temporarily opt out of the scheme and get any pension payments that they would have got put into their pay packet instead.

But these have had a limited impact on the stand-off, prompting NHS England to agree to the latest step.

There are differences to how pensions work elsewhere in the UK, although tax-free allowances have been reduced in each nation.

Currently only the NHS in England has taken this step.

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