UK – The UK’doctors’ association has warned that planned higher pensions for consultants could lead to a potential shortage of senior doctors.

“The BMA is warning of a potential shortage of consultants from 2006 if doctors retire with increased pensions as a result of the new consultant contract,” the British Medical Association said on its web site. “Employers should plan now to protect patients through measures to retain these key doctors, they are urged.”

The BMA, which represents about 80% of UK doctors, said that by 2007, up to 4,000 consultants will have little or no reason to keep working.

"There could be two waves of retirement in March 2006 and March 2007 when consultants have completed a year at the top of their pay scale and can retire on new, better pensions,” said Dr Paul Miller, chairman of the BMA’s central consultants and specialists committee.

"It could be a retirement timebomb. You only need to lose one consultant from a specialty team and it will leave a big hole in provision."

A Department of Health spokeswoman was quoted by the BBC as saying: "The new contract was designed to provide enhanced incentives for consultants to maintain commitments to the NHS up to normal retirement age."

The association says that a consultant at the top of the salary scale with the maximum 40 years' service in the National Health Service could see a pension increase worth about nine thousand pounds a year.

Under the old system, consultants received a pension calculated on a final salary basis, payable without reduction from the age of 60.

Earlier this month the BMA welcomed the NHS Pension Agency’s announcement that an interim factor of 7.2% will be used to uprate the pensions of general practitioners for 2003/2004.

"This will be the first of a series of rises reflecting the considerable increase in resources made available under the new GP contract,” said Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA's General Practitioners Committee.