The British Medical Association (BMA) is preparing to ballot GPs on strike action over NHS pension reforms next month if the government does not enhance its offer.
The ballot, which is scheduled to open on 14 May and close on 29 May, will be the first of its kind since 1975.
Under the BMA’s plans, GPs would be required to go to their workplace as usual and provide both emergency and urgent care, however, any other duties that could “safely be postponed” would not be undertaken during a 24-hour period.
Doctors across the UK will be asked whether they are willing to comply with the plans.
Although the action planned is not what is normally understood as strike action, in order to ensure legal protection, doctors will also be asked whether they are prepared to take industrial action short of a strike and industrial action in the form of a strike.
The BMA continues to rule out any full withdrawal of doctors’ labour.
It is thought GP practices would remain open and staffed so they could see patients in need of urgent attention on the day of action, but routine, non-urgent appointments would not be available on the day of action.
Decisions on what duties would be postponed would be based on the professional judgement of individual doctors.
“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,” said Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chair of the BMA Council.
“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 that day 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.”
Union Unite accused the government of attempting to “steamroller” its public sector pension reform through parliament as it officially ended talks with NHS unions last month.
The Treasury published its ‘final’ offer with small and subtle changes from its position back in December.
The updated offer includes more flexibility around partial retirement and returning to work after retirement.
Commenting on the BMA’s plans for a ballot on industrial action, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council (GMC) Niall Dickson said it will be a matter for each individual doctor to assess their own situation and ensure they follow the GMC’s guidance on patient safety.
‘The decision by the BMA Council to ballot its members on industrial action is a matter for them,” he said.
“We have no role in relations between doctors and their employers.
“Our guidance is clear – a doctor’s first duty is to his or her patient. As the BMA have itself made clear, patient safety must be the overriding priority.”
The decision to ballot its members comes after a BMA survey in January revealed 84% of doctors polled rejected the government’s pension offer and 63% would personally be prepared to take industrial action to “pursue changes to the pension proposals”.
“What does this threat of action says about those who claim that patient care is at the forefront of patient care?!” – Henry, N. London