The dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists has claimed the government is making it “impossible” for her to stay in the NHS long-term after she was hit with a large tax bill.
Kate Lovett, a consultant psychiatrist, said on social media she had received an annual tax calculation which is £20,000 more than her total annual salary.
In a series of posts on Twitter, she expressed frustration at the current pension rules – calling them “truly disgusting” – and believes the charge will force her to work “for free” over the next year.
Dr Lovett said: “[It’s] not often I despair but today I am feeling despondent about this country. Today I am on annual leave and, so far, I have spent most of it talking to my accountant.
“I am a doctor. I work hard. I have never done private work [and] I have spent the last 29 years in the service of the British public looking after NHS patients.
“But this government is making it impossible for me to stay working in the NHS long-term.
“Next year, I will get another bill I cannot afford and will be forced to pay interest on an increasing loan from the government.”
In response to a Twitter user, she added: “It’s truly disgusting [the pension tax system]. Basically, for the next year and some, I am going to be working for free. I’m not very motivated by money but it doesn’t seem to take a rocket scientist to work out that this is demotivating for even the most committed.”
The news comes as a report by the Office of Tax Simplification – an independent agency of the Treasury – warned of an “increasing concern” about the effects of the annual and lifetime allowance tapers on the NHS’ workforce. The body has urged the government to continue reviewing the current mechanisms.
The situation has “totally demoralised” Dr Lovett, she told HSJ, and feels she has been hit harder after having received a national clinical excellence award, mental health officer status and a salary increment in the same tax year.
She added: “At 52 years old, I should not be having to consider drastically reducing my work in order to reduce the risk of this happening again next year.
“I am a high rate taxpayer and have no issue about paying taxes on earned income, however, the current pension tax system is unpredictable and lacks transparency. It is creating perverse incentives for our most committed senior doctors.”
Wendy Burn, president of the college, said they were “deeply concerned” as many of their members were reporting similar situations, adding: “We have a major workforce problem, as demonstrated by our recent census showing that one in 10 consultant psychiatrist posts are unfilled.
“We cannot afford to lose more senior doctors from the workforce at a time when their skills and experience are urgently needed to support the reform and expansion of mental health services in the UK.”
The Department of Health and Social Care told HSJ it is “determined” to make it easier for senior clinicians to manage their pensions.
A statement said: “We’ve released comprehensive proposals to make clinicians’ pensions more flexible from the next financial year, so they can spend more time with their patients in hospitals or GP surgeries without facing significant tax bills.
“NHS trusts have recently been issued with guidance allowing them to provide more flexibilities this tax year, including offering extra support and reimbursing staff who opt-out of the pension scheme.”
In response to the OTS’ report, the Treasury told HSJ: “We have listened to concerns raised by NHS clinicians about the impact of the tapered annual allowance on their incentives to take on vital work, which is why we are conducting a review of how the annual allowance operates, to support the delivery of services.”
Social media, information supplied to HSJ