30 May 2012

Doctors vote for industrial action over pensions

Doctors will take industrial action on June 21 in the bitter row over the Government’s controversial pension reforms.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said doctors will provide urgent and emergency care but will postpone non-urgent cases, said the BMA.

It said doctors across the UK had backed action after being balloted over the changes.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “We are taking this step very reluctantly, and would far prefer to negotiate for a fairer solution.

“But this clear mandate for action – on a very high turnout – reflects just how let down doctors feel by the Government’s unwillingness to find a fairer approach to the latest pension changes and its refusal to acknowledge the major reforms of 2008 that made the NHS scheme sustainable in the long term.

“Non-urgent work will be postponed and, although this will be disruptive to the NHS, doctors will ensure patient safety is protected.

“All urgent and emergency care will be provided and we will work closely with managers so that anyone whose care is going to be affected can be given as much notice as possible.”

Doctors' strike will challenge the government - read Victoria Macdonald's blog

GPs voted by 13,837 to 3,687 to take action short of a strike and by 11,062 to 6,426 in favour of strikes.

The last time doctors took industrial action was in 1975, when consultants suspended goodwill activities and worked to contract over a contractual dispute, and junior doctors worked to a 40-hour week because of dissatisfaction with the progress of contract negotiations.

The BMA argues that higher-paid NHS staff already pay proportionately more for their pensions than most other public sector workers, a disparity which it said increased in April when their contributions went up, and which is set to rise again.

By 2014, some doctors will see deductions of 14.5 per cent from their pay for their pensions, compared with 7.35 per cent for senior civil servants on similar salaries, receiving similar pensions, said the BMA.

However, those opposed to the indutrial action fear it could damage the welfare of their patients.

Speaking on Radio 4’s World at One programme, Rob Flint, a GP in Leeds said: “I voted against the strike because I don’t want to put my patients at risk.

“The industrial action won’t help as it will just delay routine appointments to the next day.

“I think they should have put pressure on the government in other ways, such as withdrawing some of the administrative PCT work that stop us seeing our patients.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “The public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA if they call for industrial action over their pensions.

“People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone. We have been clear that the NHS pension scheme is, and will remain, one of the best available anywhere.

“Every doctor within 10 years of retirement will receive the pension they expected, when they expected.

“Today’s newly qualified doctor who works to 65 will get the same pension as the average consultant retiring today would receive at 60 – the BMA have already accepted a pension age of 65.

“If doctors choose to work to 68 then they could expect to receive a larger pension of £68,000.”

Earlier this year, a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the Patients Association to NHS acute trusts in England revealed that waiting times for routine procedures such as knee replacements increased by 6 per cent between 2010 and 2011, while the number of operations taking place fell.

From the 93 trusts which supplied enough data for the survey, there were 18,628 fewer operations performed in 2011 compared to 2010, a decline of 4.6 per cent. The biggest fall was in cataract procedures, which saw a 7.5 per cent decrease.