Comment: Unacceptable waiting times could see a rise in clinical negligence claims

8th July 2019

In response to the news routine surgery waiting lists have risen by up to 50%, Fletchers Solicitors Senior Solicitor, Lucy Fletcher believes this is because taxation obstacles have been placed in front of high-earning doctors.

The recent revelations that Consultants are being discouraged from working beyond their usual hours due to unexpected tax bills are extremely concerning.  

We are all aware that waiting times for surgical procedures are increasing and the knowledge that Consultants are reluctant to increase their time in surgery will only impact negatively upon these waiting times.

The problem has arisen as a result of changes in the taxation system introduced in 2016 reducing the tax relief on pension contributions for high earners. 

The rules themselves are incredibly complex with the result that many Consultants have received significant unexpected tax bills as overtime worked has increased the contributions paid to their pension pots with drastically reduced tax relief.

Tax is paid on any pension contributions exceeding £40,000 and therefore these rules do not impact on the majority of working people, however the highest earners can have this tax-free allowance reduced to just £10,000. 

Whilst it may be difficult to find sympathy for high earning consultants having to pay more tax than expected, you can understand Consultants reluctant to work additional shifts if this has the result of reducing the tax relief they receive. 

NHS staff in particular have been adversely affected due to their generous pension schemes.

Therefore, whilst on the one hand NHS Trusts are working hard to try to increase the surgical time available, they are unable to do so as the senior staff that are needed to keep theatres open are unwilling to work the additional hours necessary due to the increased tax they are having to pay. 

Indeed, most NHS Staff would want to cover gaps in staffing to ensure the NHS can run efficiently.

The government must therefore act quickly to simplify the rules to enable Consultants and other high earners to be able to identify whether working additional shifts are likely to result in increased tax burdens.

This may well have an impact in increasing the number of clinical negligence claims brought against the NHS as less experienced staff may have to cover shifts and procedures in the absence of the more experienced Consultants.

Similarly, it is foreseeable that this could result in unacceptable waiting times leading to deterioration in patients’ conditions. 

This could even mean patients having to undergo more complex procedures than should have been necessary if the appropriate staff had been available.

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