Doctors to vote on industrial action in weeks

The first ballot of doctors for industrial action since 1975 will go ahead within weeks if the Westminster government does not rethink the major changes it is making to NHS pensions, the British Medical Association has warned.

The BMA said it would ask NHS doctors across Britain whether they are willing to provide only urgent and emergency care for a 24-hour period.

Under the BMA’s plans, patient safety would be the priority. Doctors scheduled to be in work would go to their usual workplaces, and provide all emergency care and other care urgently needed, but would not undertake some duties that could safely be postponed, the BMA said.

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The action would be likely to involve the postponement of routine operations and non-urgent outpatient appointments in hospitals.

GP practices would remain open and staffed so they could see patients in need of urgent attention, but routine, non-urgent appointments would not be available on the day of action.

A series of actions is being planned but the impact on patients of the day on action would be reviewed before a decision to proceed with further action was made.

In January, 84 per cent of the 46,300 doctors and medical students who responded to a BMA survey rejected the government’s pension changes, with more than six in ten saying they were prepared to take action.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: “We’re taking this step very reluctantly and only because the government will not engage with us to even try to find a fairer way forward.

“NHS staff agreed to major changes to their pensions only four years ago. As a result, the scheme is delivering £2 billion to the Treasury each year and staff have taken on sole responsibility for covering increases in costs due to improvements in longevity in the future. “Now the government wants to tear up a deal reached through genuine negotiation and impose these further, unnecessary changes.

“There is still time for the government to rethink its plans, but if it does not, we have made a firm commitment that patient safety will be the over-riding priority.

“If we do go ahead, anyone whose condition required urgent or emergency care or investigation would be treated. All doctors due to be in work would still be in their usual workplaces. We would aim to work with managers, and other NHS staff to try to ensure as much notice and information about what was happening on the day as possible.”

The ballot is scheduled to open on 14 May and close on 29 May. BMA Council will make a decision on the results.

Health minister Simon Burns said: “There is no justification for well-paid doctors to take industrial action.

“The first responsibility of all NHS staff must to be help patients. Industrial action is completely unacceptable because it would put patients at risk.”