Doctors vote on whether to take 'reluctant' industrial action over pensions
Result of the ballot among 103,000 doctors across the UK is expected to be announced todayIf strike goes ahead, thousands of GP appointments and hospital operations will be cancelled next monthRecent poll of GPs found majority support strike

By
Graham Smith

PUBLISHED:

08:28 GMT, 30 May 2012

|

UPDATED:

08:34 GMT, 30 May 2012

A ballot for industrial action among doctors in the bitter row over the Government's controversial pension reforms closed last night.

A vote in favour would be the first time doctors have gone on strike in nearly 40 years and would deal a major blow to ministers' hopes of resolving the dispute.

Thousands of GP appointments and hospital operations will be cancelled next month if medics decide to take part in the first strike.

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Waiting game: A ballot for industrial action among doctors in the bitter row over the Government's controversial pension reforms closed last night

The British Medical Association (BMA) has ruled out a complete withdrawal of labour, but if they vote to strike, doctors would not undertake duties that could safely be postponed.

The result of the ballot among 103,000 doctors across the UK is expected to be announced today, followed by a special meeting of the BMA Council to decide its next move.

If industrial action goes ahead, the
BMA said patient safety will be the over-riding priority. Any action
would not involve a full withdrawal of labour and emergency care, or
other care urgently needed by patients, would be provided.

Any action will take place for a
24-hour period initially, with its impact – particularly on patients –
assessed before any further action was taken, it claimed.

GP practices would remain open and
fully staffed, so that they could see patients in need of urgent
attention that day, but it would not be possible to book an advance
appointment on or for the day of industrial action.

But there is widespread concern such protests will bring the NHS to its knees and endanger patients.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of
the Patients’ Association said earlier this month: ‘This is drastic
action and its patients who will suffer.

‘How can doctors decide which patients are emergencies and which patients aren’t

‘It’s a huge risk to patients. It’s difficult enough to see a GP as it is. This action would be extreme.’

Critic: Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, has warned any protests will bring the NHS to its knees and endanger patients

Critic: Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients' Association, has warned any protests will bring the NHS to its knees and endanger patients

A recent survey by Pulse magazine of 236 GPs found a majority supported industrial action.

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 rose, and which is set to increase 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, to receive similar pensions, said the BMA.

Doctors currently at the start of their careers would be hardest hit, having to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds extra – double what they would have paid – in lifetime pensions contributions, according to the association.

A statement said: 'The BMA is taking this step reluctantly. It has always said it would prefer to find a way forward through negotiation, and that industrial action is very much a last resort.

'However, it believes the Government has mishandled the situation by failing to enter into genuine negotiation on the further changes now being imposed on top of the 2008 negotiated reforms.'

BMA members overwhelmingly rejected the Government's 'final offer' made in December 2011, with almost two thirds of the 46,000 doctors and medical students who responded to a survey saying they were prepared to take industrial action to pursue improvements to the offer.

The BMA pointed out that under the Government's plans, NHS staff will be required to work until the State Pension Age, set to rise to 68, until they can draw a full pension, rather than 65 for those on the 2008 pension scheme.

Six separate ballots have been held, for GPs, consultants, junior doctors, staff associates and specialist doctors and occupational and community health doctors.

The ballot result follows a threat of co-ordinated strikes in the autumn by the two biggest teachers' unions, the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT, over a range of issues, including pensions.

A series of national strikes has been held by public sector workers over the past six months, involving civil servants, teachers, lecturers, health staff, council workers and others, in protest at the pension reforms.

The Government is pressing ahead with the changes, which unions said would lead to workers paying more into their pensions, working longer and receiving less in retirement.