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GPs face backlash over strike action

31 May 2012

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Doctors stand accused of being ‘greedy’ in voting to take industrial action over the government’s pension reform for the first time in almost 40 years.

Yesterday, the British Medical Association (BMA) Council decided on the action, scheduled for 21 June, which will see doctors providing urgent and emergency care, but postponing non-urgent cases.

On a 53.18% GP turnout, over three-quarters (78.96%) voted in favour of industrial action short of a strike and 63.25% voting for an outright strike.  

Of the 104,544 doctors eligible to take part in the vote, 50% turned up to the ballot.

Under the plans 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.

Decisions on what duties would be postponed would be based on the professional judgment of individual doctors. 

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, admitted the planned strike will cause disruption but said there is a “clear mandate for action”. 

“We are taking this step very reluctantly, and would far prefer to negotiate for a fairer solution,” he said.

“But this clear mandate for action – on a very high turnout – reflects just how let down doctors feel by the government’s unwillingness to find a fairer approach to the latest pension changes and its refusal to acknowledge the major reforms of 2008 that made the NHS scheme sustainable in the long term.

”Non-urgent work will be postponed and, although this will be disruptive to the NHS, doctors will ensure patient safety is protected.”

Criticising the BMA’s decision, Julia Manning, Chief Executive of thinktank 2020health, blasted doctors for their “massive own goal”, which places them in a “morally unjustifiable position”.

“This is a massive own goal for doctors that tarnishes them all with a ‘greedy’ brush,” she said.

“This vote says that they are more concerned with pensions than patients and is a morally unjustifiable position. 

“By taking industrial action, many more people will be aware of just how generous [a doctor’s] pension still is and all doctors will be seen as greedy and stingy as a result of their colleagues’ action.

”Doctors live longer than almost any other professional.  They have to accept that we are all having to make changes, accept higher contributions and lower pensions.”

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley also warned doctors they will not receive public understanding or sympathy in striking and promised under the reforms the NHS pension scheme “will remain one of the best available anywhere”.