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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 July 7; 335(7609): 15.
PMCID: PMC1910675

Court lets BMA challenge government decision on GP pensions

Clare Dyer, legal correspondent

The BMA has been given the go ahead to take the government to court to challenge a decision to cap GPs' pensions.

The High Court has granted the BMA permission to apply for a judicial review of a decision by the former health secretary Patricia Hewitt to limit increases in family doctors' pensions, which the BMA argues breaches the new GP contract.

Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's GPs' committee, said, “There is a very important principle at stake, which is that when the government makes agreements it should stick to them. GPs are angry about the imposed cap on their pensions because they feel they have kept their faith with the new contract and the government has broken theirs.

“We are very pleased that the court has allowed us to challenge the government on this unjustified breach of the original agreement. The government's decision is depriving doctors of the pension we believe they have a legal right to receive.”

He added, “Most GPs are self employed. They pay both the employers' and the employees' contributions into the NHS pension scheme. The pensions they have accrued are in fact delayed pay resulting from a contract agreed by the government with the profession. For the government to say they cannot have the pension they have earned and paid for is a denial of their contractual rights.”

The rate used to calculate GPs' pensions was linked to GPs' net profits under the new agreement. But when pensionable earnings proved to be much higher than the government had expected, ministers decided to limit the increase to 48% over five years.

The BMA objected, arguing that the deal, although it might seem superficially attractive, would seriously disadvantage GPs who had recently retired and GPs near retirement.

The court case is unlikely to conclude before the end of 2007. A spokesperson for the Department of Health said, “We can't comment until the judicial review is complete.”

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