Doctors’ pensions: BMA wins court victory over unlawful changes  

Controversial changes to pensions rules granting the Health and Social Care Secretary the power to suspend pension payments to doctors charged with a criminal offence have been thrown out by the Court of Appeal.

This follows an appeal brought by the Government against the BMA’s victory in January 2020.

In April 2019, the Secretary of State amended NHS pension rules in England and Wales giving himself the power to suspend payment of pensions benefits to a doctor or NHS professional who had been charged with certain criminal offences, but not yet convicted.

In January 2020, the BMA were successful in having the regulations scrapped, but the Government sought to appeal the decision.

The Government sought to appeal the court’s decision to the Court of Appeal but reached the end of the road in its quest to save these regulations when the Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Nicol Davies last week refused permission to appeal.

‘Irreversible prejudice’

In reaching her decision, Lady Justice Davies said: ‘The Secretary of State has come nowhere close to fulfilling his duties’ and that the sanctioning of a doctor or NHS professional in advance of a fair trial was capable of causing ‘irreversible prejudice that is incapable of later remedy’.

She added that the result of the case would be unaffected by any appeal because there was the clearest possible breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED).

The BMA’s interim director of legal services, Gareth Williams, said: ‘The BMA was deeply disappointed that the Secretary of State for Health chose to introduce regulations that permitted him to suspend our members’ pensions without them having been convicted of any offence or having had the right to a fair trial.  

‘We regarded this a clear breach of the law and after trying to resolve matters amicably, we were left with no choice but to take the matter to the High Court for judicial determination.

‘We were very disappointed that the Secretary of State chose to appeal the very clear and well-reasoned judgment of the court that was handed down in January of this year.

‘With all the pressures that our members face, it was important that we saw this case through to its conclusion to ensure that they cannot have their pension taken away from them, on the basis of potentially spurious allegations, unsupported by evidence, to which they have never had the right to defend themselves in court.’

The BMA said it would be seeking recovery of its legal costs from the Government.