Doctors threaten to sue over NHS pension changes

By Sally Wardle, Press Association Health and Science Correspondent

Doctors have threatened to sue the Government over changes to the NHS pension scheme which they say discriminated against younger staff.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock and officials in Scotland and Northern Ireland to warn of its intention to take legal action on behalf of members, it said on Monday.

The body, which represents UK doctors, said changes to pension schemes four years ago will result in “huge financial loss” for some medics when they retire.

Many NHS staff were moved onto a new scheme in 2015 with “less valuable retirement benefits”, the BMA said.

However, some doctors were allowed to stay on the previous schemes until they retired or at the end of a fixed transition period.

“The BMA alleges that the failure to allow younger doctors to benefit from these transitions constitutes unlawful age discrimination,” Dr Trevor Pickersgill, interim treasurer of the body, said.

Some doctors may face financial loss as a result of the changes, the BMA said (Peter Byrne/PA)

The legal action follows a ruling by the Court of Appeal in December, which found the Government discriminated against judges and firefighters over changes to their pension.

“In line with the changes to the NHS Pension scheme, firefighters similarly could stay in the existing and better pension scheme, and younger members had to transfer to a new and worse scheme, causing significant financial losses,” Dr Pickersgill said.

“The Government has said it will appeal this decision, but the BMA is demanding that, should that appeal fail, the Government will agree that 2015 NHS Pension Scheme does unlawfully discriminate against its younger members.

“The BMA wants the Government to scrap the scheme so that doctors are not adversely affected by it in later years.

“Many doctors had been working towards and planning for their retirement based on membership of the former sections of the NHS pension scheme, only for those plans to be completely disregarded once the Government’s discriminatory changes were brought in.”

A Government spokesman said: “In 2015 reforms were introduced to ensure that public service pensions are affordable and sustainable in the long term.

“In December 2018, the Court of Appeal ruled that the ‘transitional protection’ offered to some members as part of the reforms amounts to unlawful discrimination.

“The Government is seeking permission to appeal this decision and continues to believe that the reforms were necessary, appropriate and lawful.

“If the appeal is unsuccessful, the Court will require steps to be taken to compensate employees who were transferred to the new schemes.

“However this decision does not alter the Government’s longstanding objective to ensure public service pensions are fair to public service workers and fair to other taxpayers.”