Scottish hospitals ‘not ready for doctor strike’
SENIOR doctors have warned that patients risk being turned away from hospitals this week amid claims that NHS managers have failed to prepare for strike action.
The British Medical Association says health boards across Scotland are not taking the industrial action over a threat to pensions “seriously” with thousands of doctors expected to treat only emergency cases.
Dr Lewis Morrison, chairman of the British Medical Association’s Scottish Consultants’ Committee, said the number of doctors in Scotland who voted in favour of the one-day strike - 10,000 - was proportionately higher than anywhere else in the UK. But many patients were still to be notified about cancelled operations and outpatient appointments and there are fears many will turn up at hospitals only to be turned away.
The BMA says health boards were warned of the industrial action several months ago - well before the ballot on 30 May which produced a ‘yes’ vote and have also had three weeks since then in which to prepare.
But Morrison said: “If health boards have not taken us seriously, that is their mistake. This has been on the cards for months and, really, can be no surprise to the Scottish Government or health boards. There is now genuine concern not enough has been done by them to prepare for this.
“We are really worried some patients will not get sufficient notice about their appointments being postponed and will turn up thinking they will be treated when they won’t be. They should have been told by now, but many have not.
“Some health boards have perhaps misunderstood the strength of the ‘yes’ vote and think doctors won’t follow through with the strike. But we are absolutely serious.”
Thousands of doctors are finalising preparations for Thursday’s strike, which they say they have been forced into as a result of unfair changes to the NHS pension scheme which will increase their pension contributions and retirement age. Across the UK, more than a million patients are expected to face disruption with thousands of routine operations and tests cancelled. In addition, around 1.25 million GO appointments will not take place.
Doctors will not be on picket lines on Thursday. Instead they will be in their normal place of work, such as a surgery or hospital, where they will only work if an emergency patient needs care. All accident and emergency units and maternity services will be unaffected and tests for critical illnesses, such as cancer, will go ahead.
Margaret Watt, the chairwoman of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “Patients are going to be disappointed and annoyed. But doctors have taken this route as a last option. The blame for this lies fair and square with politicians, who have refused to listen to the concerns of our doctors.”
Under the pension plans – which at present only apply to England and Wales but are likely to be introduced in Scotland – the age at which doctors retire would rise from 65 to 68 by 2015. Their pension contributions will also increase by up to 14.5 per cent, twice as much as other public sector staff, they say.
Health boards say they are making adequate provisions ahead of Thursday but concede that many patients still have to be contacted about delayed operations and appointments.
A spokeswoman for Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that a “robust planning process” was in place to ensure that emergency and urgent care would be provided: “However, in light of the planned industrial action by medical staff it is necessary to postpone non-urgent and routine activity scheduled to take place on the day. We are now in the process of writing out to the patients affected to inform them of this.”
A spokesman for NHS Grampian said: “If there is a need to postpone appointments that have already been booked on June 21, then we will be in touch with patients direct and as soon as possible.”
An NHS Lothian spokeswoman said: “We are in the process of contacting patients to advise them of this and that we will be in touch very soon to rearrange their postponed surgery/appointment.”
Ayrshire and Arran and Tayside health boards also said they were in the process of contacting patients. A spokeswoman for the Western Isles health board said that patients at affected practices had been informed via local radio, newspapers and a poster campaign and that emergency cover would not be affected.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Doctors have voted on industrial action based on the talks on reforms to the NHS pension scheme in England and Wales. In Scotland, we have taken a different approach and are working through the established partnership structures to agree a way forward. The BMA are very much part of that process and we call on them to continue the negotiations.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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