Doctors' industrial action hits hospital appointments

Some doctors do not agree with the strike, like Dr James Davies, who says it is not the right time to take action

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Hundreds of doctors in Wales have joined industrial action by the British Medical Association (BMA) over pension changes.

Routine hospital appointments and non-emergency operations are affected, while GPs are also taking part.

But the doctors are promising that urgent and emergency cases will be treated as normal.

Wales' seven local health boards say hospital in-patients will be treated normally.

The UK government has condemned action over pensions by members of the BMA.

A majority of doctors voted in favour of a day of action on 21 June in a ballot of 104,000 BMA members.

The BMA lists 475 GP practices in Wales but how many will take part in Thursday's pensions protest is not certain.

Most doctors are expected to be in work but handle only emergency and urgent cases.

However a number of practices have decided not to support the action at all and there are some practices where doctors are divided with some partners ignoring the protest while others taking urgent cases only.

Official statements have come from all seven local health boards in Wales to reassure patients:

  • Abertawe Bro Morganwwg(Swansea, Bridgend, Neath/Port Talbot) said GP practices will open normally but will see only patients needing urgent or emergency care. Some non-urgent hospital outpatient appointments and non-urgent pre-booked surgery has been postponed, it said.
  • Aneurin Bevan (Newport and Gwent valleys) said accident and emergency services, urgent assessment and trauma services are all unaffected but those doctors taking industrial action will be providing only urgent and emergency care which they believe cannot be safely postponed.
  • Cwm Taf (South Wales valleys) said routine activity in hospitals and primary care will be affected but emergency, urgent and cancer services will not.
  • Betsi Cadwaladr(North Wales) said casualty units could be busy but work will continue to provide emergency and urgent care services as normal. It added that some non-urgent services face disruption while some planned admissions were being postponed along with around 700 outpatient appointments, although this number includes patients who themselves asked for the date or time to be changed.
  • Cardiff and Vale said urgent and emergency community care and hospital services, including urgent GP appointments, will still be running. The board cancelled 60 out-patient appointments but saw 400 patients. They also cancelled approximately 30 in-patient procedures including operations but 200 went ahead.
  • Hywel Dda (west Wales) - A small number of scheduled healthcare appointments across Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire have been postponed. GP surgeries open for urgent patients but no routine, non-urgent appointments available.
  • Powys said in-patients at all its 10 community hospitals will receive full medical care, while eight out of 17 GP practices were not taking industrial action. It said the remainder would still see all urgent cases while the out-of-hours GP service will operating normally, although some clinics had been rescheduled.

Dr Richard Lewis, Welsh secretary of the BMA, said it is difficult to assess how many doctors in Wales would take part in the action, but 84% had said they were prepared to.

It is not a strike where doctors stop working, but rather a limit on what they do by cancelling routine appointments, he said.

Analysis

I have to say that it feels a lot like business as normal at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.

Cardiff and Vale health board say they have had to cancel 60 out-patient appointments today but are scheduled to see 400.

They have also cancelled approximately 30 in-patient procedures including operations but 200 have gone ahead.

Because of work between the BMA and hospitals they say disrution has been kept to a minimum.

"It is up to each practice whether they take part, but we are sending out a clear message whilst still protecting patient safety", he said on BBC Radio Wales.

Dr Lewis said doctors would be happy if there was a "level playing field" where all public sector workers who earned over £100,000 a year paid the same amount into their pension schemes.

"But doctors pay 14% whilst civil servants are paying half of that for the same pension."

"If everyone was paying 14% there would be no problem but why should doctors be penalised and pay more than others such as civil servants."

On the type of action being taken he said: "There has to be some mechanism for expressing unhappiness".

Dr James Davies, a GP who practises in Chester, is on annual leave, but did not take part in the action, and said he and his colleagues felt it was counter-productive.

"GPs and other doctors are in a privileged position in term of job security as hundreds of thousands of jobs are being lost in the public sector."

He said he did not feel he was being "penalised".

"Perhaps the people who have the better deal are in the minority," he said.

"I'd question the type of action however as it may damage the medical profession.

"A doctor is meant to be reasonable and reliable and look to be the arbiter, to be fair. This can appear to make us seem greedy, which is damaging," he added.

A Welsh government spokesman stressed that doctors' pensions were not devolved to Wales and that the dispute was with the UK government.

But doctors taking part in industrial action will not lose pay after an agreement was reached with the NHS in Wales.

Their full salary will be paid if doctors contribute fully to urgent care on the day of the strike.

They must also recover lost activity in normal working hours in the following 12 weeks.

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