Lansley accuses doctors of robbing nurses’ pensions to fund their retirement pot

Authors: Caroline White 

Publication date:  22 Jun 2012

The war of words between the government and the BMA over pensions has intensified further after the health secretary for England, Andrew Lansley, accused striking doctors of putting their own interests not only before those of patients but also before those of other NHS and public sector staff.

In a strongly worded preamble to his speech to delegates at the annual NHS Confederation conference in Manchester on 20 June he made it clear that the industrial action on 21 June, called by the BMA in protest over plans to make doctors stump up more for their pensions,[1] was “pointless” but would “inevitably damage services for patients.”

“We all wish there was more money to go around, but there isn’t,” he said bluntly, accusing the BMA of ignoring “the economic and financial realities.”

Lengthy discussions had been held with all the trade unions to negotiate an agreement that was affordable and sustainable, he said. “We have to remember this is not a doctors’ pension scheme, it’s an NHS pension scheme.

“We cannot prioritise doctors over every other public sector worker when they have one of the most generous pension schemes in the country and will continue to do so,” he emphasised.

“In seeking a more generous deal for doctors, the BMA are seeking a less fair deal for NHS staff overall,” he said, singling out nurses, who had been asked to support the BMA by not filling in for doctors during the day of action. If doctors’ pension contributions remained unchanged, a nurse earning £30 000 (€37 000; $47 000) a year could see his or her take home pay drop by £100 a month to cover the shortfall, Lansley suggested.

He reiterated that the revised NHS pension scheme remained one of the best in the country and strongly refuted the BMA’s claim that the revised scheme was “a tax on doctors.”

Contributions would only briefly be higher than benefits, he said, adding that the current estimated cost of providing doctors’ pensions totalled £83bn, three quarters of which (£67bn) “is likely to have to come from the taxpayer.”

At a separate briefing with journalists he said that there was no question that the government would alter its resolve. “I have to be clear: there is not going to be a change to the pensions deal, I’ve told the BMA that, and they know that.”

When it was suggested that the pension reforms had angered doctors, Lansley demanded to know when they had become angry. A deal had been agreed back in December, he said, but the BMA had subsequently told its members to be angry about it. “That makes me pretty cross because I don’t think that’s right,” he declared.

When it was put to him that doctors might withdraw their cooperation from commissioning by way of future protest, Lansley said, “Not engaging in clinical commissioning risks damaging patients for a long time to come. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that,” adding that the dispute was about “personal self interest.”

A BMA spokesperson said: “We completely reject claims that a rethink of the pensions changes would mean nurses paying more. Nurses’ unions have been just as critical of the government’s proposals as we have. It’s disingenuous to say that a renegotiation would mean other staff paying more. This argument appears to be based on the arbitrary spending envelope dictated by the government.”

Responding to Lansley’s speech, the BMA’s chairman of council, Hamish Meldrum, said, “The secretary of state’s repeated and blatantly misleading comments about the NHS pension dispute only set back what he purports to seek to achieve: a quick resolution.”

He continued: “It will sadly confirm that he is simply unable and unwilling to listen to the genuine concerns of NHS staff.”

“Whatever the rights and wrongs of this dispute between doctors and the government, I feel passionately that patients should not be dragged into the argument,” said Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents most NHS organisations.

“Good relations between all the constituent parts of the NHS are crucial to its success. It is important that strong feelings about pensions do not spill over into the longer term.”


  1. Jaques H. UK doctors vote on industrial action for first time in 37 years. BMJ  2012;344:e3457.

Caroline White Manchester

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