Northern Ireland senior medics could be forced to slash hours to avoid pension tax hike, warn BMA
Senior doctors may be forced out of the health service without major reform of pensions, a medical union has warned.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said current pension and tax rules have created "a perfect storm" in the workforce.
Last month, it was reported that a rising number of senior medics were being hit with large tax bills for exceeding their annual pension savings allowance.
In many cases this leads to senior doctors across the UK turning down extra shifts over fears they will be landed with huge tax bills.
Part of the problem is the "annual allowance taper", introduced in 2016 to lower the amount of tax cuts handed to high earners saving for retirement.
In a letter to the Chancellor Phillip Hammond, the BMA said senior consultants are being forced to reduce their hours, retire early or leave the health service to avoid a tax hike.
The BMA said the existing rules could drive the most skilled and experienced consultants out of the health service.
Dr Anne Carson, who is chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland consultants committee, is among those raising concerns.
"It cannot be right that doctors working extra hours to reduce waiting lists or cover rota gaps are then hit with additional tax bills greater than the value of the extra hours worked," she said.
Dr Carson said the BMA felt there had been a refusal from the Westminster Government and Northern Ireland's Department of Health to fix the problem which she said was "disproportionately and unfairly" impacting on doctors.
"Unless action is taken, our only option is to reduce the amount of time we work for the NHS, which will through no fault of our own be detrimental to our patients and to the country's health service - exactly what the BMA has been trying to avoid," she added.
After writing to the Chancellor several times, she said she was "disappointed" the government had not acknowledged solutions put forward by the BMA.
Dr Carson added: "Action is needed now, before doctors are compelled, by these punitive rules, to reduce their working hours or quit the health service.
"Doctors are facing the very real prospect of effectively working for no pay and that is untenable.
"We believe that there needs to be a fundamental review of current pensions taxation legislation.
"While we understand that this is unlikely to happen quickly, we remain deeply concerned that once this information is more widely known, there will be a massive loss of capacity within the NHS."
BMA members have sent over 1,600 letters to MPs, but the union said there has so far been "a worrying refusal to acknowledge the reality" faced by the wider NHS.