IN the run up to being named Prime Minister, Boris Johnson promised to make “fixing” a pension issue that is leading to a staffing crisis in the NHS a key priority.

Thanks to a combination of inflexibility in the NHS pension scheme and the tapered way tax reliefs have applied to higher earners since 2016, doctors earning over £110,000 have been shunning the extra shifts required to keep the service going for fear of incurring large and disproportionate tax bills. With nearly half of all consultants either giving up or considering giving up overtime as a result, it is no wonder Mr Johnson said the situation is “obviously wrong” and “causing a real problem”.

READ MORE: NHS faces staffing crisis over pension charge fears

Two weeks into his premiership and Mr Johnson appears to have taken action, with his newly appointed Chancellor Sajid Javid and health and social care secretary Matt Hancock unveiling plans that could ultimately put the issue to bed.

In addition to proposing that “top doctors, surgeons and other high-earning clinicians” be allowed to alter the amount they save into their pension while retaining their employer’s full contribution, the Government has said it will review how the tax treatment that has been causing all the problems – the tapered annual allowance – works for them too. At the same time, a controversial 50:50 plan put forward by Mr Hancock in June, which would have allowed clinicians to halve the amount they contribute to their pension in exchange for halving the rate at which their pension grows, has been scrapped.

The new plan has not gone down well. Indeed, while there is a general consensus that the best way to stop doctors being caught out by the tapered annual allowance is to scrap the taper altogether, Aegon pensions director Steven Cameron said it makes no sense for the Government to consider doing so for the medical profession only.

“These highly complex rules are affecting an increasing number of individuals across many employment sectors, public and private,” he said.

“We recognise the hugely important contribution to society medical professionals play, but this should be reflected in their pay, not through some concession linked to tax rules on pensions.

“If we start linking pensions tax allowances to a value judgement about the nature of people’s work, where might this take us?”

Ian Browne of investment business Quilter agreed, although he believes the best way to deal with the issue “would be to accept the taper is not fit for purpose and reverse it” for everyone.

“A bespoke solution for doctors ignores large swathes of high-earning public sector workers who provide critical services every day such as judges, teachers and transport workers,” he said.

READ MORE: Margaret Taylor: It is time to start listening to doctors on NHS staffing crisis

“The Chancellor has committed to reviewing the salary threshold at which the taper impacts people, but the Government should go much further.

“The principle of the taper, which discourages long-term saving, has always been questionable. It breaks the foundations of the retirement savings system, by taking away the level playing field that entitles everyone to the same right to tax relief at their marginal rate and a universal annual threshold on contributions.”

Nor has the so-called recycling plan, which would allow doctors to opt out of the pension but receive their employer’s contribution in their salary, received much more support.

For Tilney chartered financial planner Gary Smith the idea is “ill thought out” and “lacking in understanding” of the increased costs the NHS - which would have to pay national insurance on any contributions taken as salary – would face.

Even if the recycling plan does get the green light there is no guarantee that consultants in Scotland will benefit because while decisions that relate specifically to pensions are decided at Westminster those that relate to pay are up to Holyrood to determine.

Lewis Morrison, chair of the Scottish arm of trade union the British Medical Association, said that while flexibility on pension contributions would “provide some short-term relief for some doctors if adopted in Scotland” it is not yet clear whether the Scottish Government intends to follow the UK’s lead.

READ MORE: NHS pension plan could create more problems than it solves

“We have already raised this with Scottish Government and will be looking for a positive response to this new development from them at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said.

“In particular, the UK Government have said that reducing employee contributions will not mean doctors ‘losing out on the value of unused employer contributions’.

“In Scotland, we need the Scottish Government to take urgent action on this and make sure that doctors in our NHS do not lose this aspect of their remuneration regardless of what their contribution rate may be.”