The scheme, offered to band 5 nurses in return for a higher starting salary at in Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, has raised concerns that it could be extended to other staff and NHS organisations.
The move is understood to be part of a recruitment drive by Oxleas in response to difficulties filling posts but could also be attractive to other increasingly financially constrained trusts.
Says CSP assistant director Pete Finch:
'We are concerned that members are not fully informed of the adverse impact opting out will have on their income in retirement. Furthermore, there is a risk to the viability of the NHS Pension scheme itself if this spreads to other staff groups and trusts.
'There is a big problem of falling real pay levels in the NHS thanks to the Government’s continuing policy of wage restraint which is leading to recruitment difficulties. But undermining a key staff benefit isn’t the way to deal with it and can only further undermine morale.'
Health unions initially brought the issue to the attention of the pensions regulator in January this year. However the regulator in its initial response stated they did not believe the decision by Oxleas amounted to an 'inducement' to leave the scheme.
The CSP and other NHS unions have now written to the Head of Complaints and Information Disclosure at the Pensions Regulator, raising a complaint about this original decision.
Unions said that the trust could be breaching rules on the use of enticements to get employees to opt out of a pension they had been automatically enrolled into by their employer.
The Pensions Minister Ros Altmann has also criticised the Trust and the NHS Pensions Board - which comprises employer and union representatives, is considering referring the scheme back to the regulator for further scrutiny.
NHS trusts racked up a deficit approaching £2.3bn in the first nine months of the current financial year – £622m worse than planned – recent analysis by Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority has shown. Three quarters of NHS providers reported a deficit, including 90% of acute trusts. The deficit is larger than the £1.6bn recorded in the first six months of the year. In the figures, spending on agency and contract staff was £1bn more than the £2.72bn planned.
The CSP has said government funding of the NHS is ‘just enough to keep the lights on’ and wants to see a reverse the decline in funding of the NHS as a proportion of GDP.