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Doctors' pension row 'must be addressed before Northern Ireland waiting lists'

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Key priority: Robin Swann

Key priority: Robin Swann

Key priority: Robin Swann

Northern Ireland's hospital waiting time crisis cannot be addressed until the row over doctors' pensions is resolved, it has been warned.

Slashing the number of people waiting years for hospital appointments and surgical procedures is a key priority for the new Health Minister, Robin Swann.

Earlier this week, Mr Swann said the health service needs an extra £661m to maintain existing services and to tackle the waiting list crisis.

Health trusts will be expected to run additional clinics in order to meet the ambitious target laid out in the New Decade, New Approach deal.

However, a senior doctor has said consultants will be unable to work the hours necessary while the current rules relating to doctors' pensions remain in place.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) Northern Ireland council, said: "As it stands, if doctors work harder, they end up paying more tax than they are actually earning. The obvious solution to this is for doctors to stop working as many hours."

Senior doctors have been dramatically scaling back their hours since pension reforms which mean they are being severely financially penalised for running extra clinics to help the health service cope with demand.

There have been reports that some doctors have been forced to re-mortgage their homes to pay hefty tax bills, while it has also been claimed that more doctors are taking early retirement because of the situation.

Last November, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that waiting times for cancer and dementia services here are growing as a result of the pension row.

Dr Black continued: "Mitigations can be put in place by local governments to address this issue and that's already being done in Wales, Scotland and England.

"Essentially it means that they can stop paying into the pension scheme on a short-term basis.

"This is already happening in the other three countries and we have met with the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health to discuss this issue with him. Now we have a Health Minister in place, there is no reason why this can't be addressed.

"We can only clear waiting lists if doctors work harder and they won't work harder if it means they're going to earn less."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said: "This important issue is under active and urgent consideration by the minister.

"He is very keen to establish a way forward as soon as possible."

Belfast Telegraph