Health

Doctors target non-urgent care in industrial action

  • 30 May 2012
  • From the section Health

Doctors will stop providing non-urgent care for a day next month in the first industrial action by the profession for nearly 40 years.

The move comes after a majority of doctors voted in favour of action in a British Medical Association ballot of 104,000 members over pension changes.

The 24-hour day of action will take place on 21 June.

The union said emergency care would still take place, as doctors did not want to put patients at risk.

Of those balloted, half responded. Among the main groups of doctors the results were overwhelming.

Some 79% of GPs, 84% of hospital consultants and 92% of junior doctors who responded voted in favour.

By targeting non-urgent care, patients are likely to be affected in this way:

  • Elective operations such as knee and hip replacements likely to be postponed
  • GP practices to remain open, but routine appointments will not take place
  • Hospital appointments for routine conditions expected to be cancelled
  • Tests for critical conditions such as cancer will still be available
  • A&E units and maternity services to run as normal

It will be the first time since 1975 that doctors have taken industrial action.

It is not yet known whether the day of action will be followed by further ones.

Unions representing a host of health professionals, including paramedics, admin staff and porters, have already taken part in strikes over pension changes.

Patient safety 'safeguarded'

But the Royal College of Nursing, one of the most influential voices inside the NHS alongside the BMA, has yet to decide what it will do.

It has held a ballot where the majority rejected the government's pension changes, but the turnout was low.

Under the plans, which apply to England and Wales but could be introduced elsewhere in the UK, the age at which doctors retire would rise from 65 to 68 by 2015.

The contributions doctors have to make are also due to rise.

The union has also questioned government claims that the current scheme - which was only agreed in 2008 - was unsustainable, pointing out it brings in a £2bn-a-year surplus.

BMA leader Dr Hamish Meldrum said while the action would be disruptive, doctors would ensure that patient safety was not compromised.

He added: "We are taking this step very reluctantly and would far prefer to negotiate for a fairer solution.

"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."

But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "The public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA.

"People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone."

He said the NHS pension would remain "one of the best available anywhere", pointing out a new doctor joining the revised scheme could still expect a pension of £68,000 a year on retirement.

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, added: "We know that doctors are anxious about changes to their pensions. But no-one wants to see patients dragged into the argument.

"Industrial action could potentially mean delays to treatment. It would be particularly distressing for patients and extremely worrying for staff, who are dedicated to putting patients first."

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