STRIKING doctors have warned today’s industrial action could be the start of a series of walkouts in protest at the government’s planned pension reforms.
Up to 10,000 doctors across Scotland are taking part in industrial action which will see them provide only emergency care to patients in hospitals and surgeries.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) say they “deeply regret” taking the action – the first time doctors in the UK have gone on strike in 37 years – but insist they will continue to fight plans to increase their pension contributions and raise the age of retirement.
It means all non-urgent out-patient appointments due to take place today will be cancelled. The BMA is adamant all emergency cases will be seen and that no lives will be put at risk.
Doctors will be in their normal place of work but are only expected to see patients who have life-threatening illnesses or require urgent treatment.
Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, refused to rule out further industrial action, saying members had already spoken out in favour of this if needs be.
He said: “The ballot undertaken by the BMA allows more action to be taken after 21 June. The BMA will assess the reaction from governments, patients and doctors before deciding what their next steps will be.
“Our wish is for the UK government to return to discussions over a fair and equitable approach to changes to NHS pensions to avoid any further action.
“We took this decision reluctantly, but it is the only means by which we can demonstrate our anger at the UK government’s unfair and unnecessary changes to the NHS pension scheme.”
Dr Keighley also criticised the Scottish Government for failing to do more to prevent the industrial action. Under the pension plans, the age at which doctors retire would rise from 65 to 68 by 2015.
Their pension contributions will also rise by up to 14.5 per cent, twice as much as other public sector staff, they say.
The Scottish Government opposes the strike despite it disagreeing with the pension reforms set to be imposed by Westminster. It warned patients to expect some disruption today.
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “We are working with unions and health boards to ensure patient safety is a priority and urgent care will continue, although some disruption to routine services is expected.”
She said it was down to health boards and individual GP surgeries to have informed patients of cancellations and other delays to their treatment as a result of the 24-hour strike which was due to start at midnight.
The BMA has told how the percentage of doctors in Scotland who voted for action was higher than any other part of the UK. It said this was due to the NHS in Scotland still being a single organisation which most doctors worked within, and they stood to lose more.
The action comes just a day after staff employed by the BMA went on day-long strike in a row over changes to their pay .
Hundreds of members of the GMB walked out yesterday after rejecting a pay offer of 1.5 per cent, with an extra 0.5 per cent for high performers.
It was the first strike by BMA staff in the 180 years the organisation has been in existence.