Doctors may refuse to work overtime

DOCTORS will consider taking industrial action in a row over changes to their pensions if the UK government does not listen to their concerns.

As public-sector workers across the UK went on strike over their own pension fears, the British Medical Association heard passionate pleas for action to protect their own schemes.

Delegates in Cardiff voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion calling for the BMA to ballot doctors on "all forms of industrial action" if the UK government goes ahead and replaces their final salary scheme with career-average pensions.

Doctors have not taken industrial action since 1975.

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While it is thought unlikely doctors would walk out on strike, other possible forms of industrial action could include working to rule and refusing to do overtime.

BMA members are upset about proposals set out in a review by Lord Hutton to increase the age at which they can retire, in line with other public-sector workers, as well as moves away from final salary pensions to career-average schemes.

They are also concerned their contributions could increase from around 8.5 per cent of their salary to as much as 15.5 per cent by 2014-15.

Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA's pensions committee, pointed out that the NHS pension scheme would generate in excess of 10 billion for the Treasury over the next five years.

Doctors also said that the higher contributions they paid helped prop up the NHS scheme for lower paid staff, and this would be hit if they decided to move to more lucrative private pension schemes.

The BMA said their own research suggested many junior doctors could be better off investing in private pensions than joining the reformed NHS scheme.

This would mean the NHS scheme missed out on benefiting from their contributions.

Dr Jan Wise, from the BMA's consultants group, said he wanted to send a message to the leaders of the BMA that doctors were willing to consider industrial action in the row over their pensions.

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"This isn't saying we are going to strike. It is giving us that option," he said.

"I would suggest at this moment in time all options have to be available."

Dr Mary Church, a GP in Lanarkshire, expressed concerns about doctors taking industrial action due to the effects on patient trust.

"This conference has been promoting trust - trust your doctor to look after you when you are ill, trust your doctor to help you make the right choices and trust your doctor not to put profit above patient care," she said.

"If we take industrial action, we will lose that trust forever."

Dr Church also pointed out that a BMA conference of GPs earlier this year had voted against taking industrial action.

Dr Dearden questioned the assumption that because people lived ten years longer now than in the past, that meant they could work ten years longer, as suggested by the moves to increase the public-sector pension age to 66 by 2020 and 68 in the future.

"A 67-year-old porter may not be able to do the same things he could do, ten years before," he said.

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"I would ask you the question, with all due respect, would you be happy for a 68-year-old neurosurgeon to be digging around inside your head?"

Later Dr Dearden added: "There is great anger and fear among doctors and medical students.

"And rightly so when you consider that the NHS pension scheme is in a very different position from other public-sector schemes."

Dr Dearden emphasised that industrial action would be a last resort.

"Doctors always think of their patients first, and it would never be a decision that would be taken lightly.

"We're definitely not at that stage yet, and it would be premature to be talking about specific forms of action."

A spokesman for the UK Department of Health said: "The government has accepted Lord Hutton's recommendations as a basis for consultation with public-sector workers, unions and others and will set out proposals in the autumn that are affordable, sustainable, and fair to both public-sector workers and the taxpayer.

"Strike action is unnecessary and premature while discussions, set up at the request of the Trades Union Congress, are ongoing.

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"Trade unions that operate within the NHS, including the BMA, have been invited to get round the table to look at how best to implement the employee-contribution increases announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review."

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