Pensions row continues at BMA doctors' conference

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Media captionDr Hamish Meldrum: ''We don't want special treatment, but we do want fair treatment''

The medical profession must "find a sensible way out" of the pensions dispute, the leader of the British Medical Association says.

Dr Hamish Meldrum said the government's plans were a disgrace in a speech to open the union's annual conference.

But he said doctors could not risk losing the trust of the public.

The conference comes just days after medics across the UK took industrial action for the first time in nearly 40 years.

Public trust

Doctors boycotted non-urgent care last Thursday, causing thousands of non-emergency operations to be cancelled and disruption to hospital and GP appointments.

Although ministers said less than 10% of the profession took part - a figure disputed by the union.

The BMA has argued the government's plans, which will mean doctors contributing more and working for longer, are unfair.

Speaking to an audience of more than 500 members in Bournemouth, Dr Meldrum, who stands down as BMA chairman later this week, said he had been "deeply saddened" that the union had been forced into industrial action over pensions.

"It's a disgrace that doctors should be the highest contributors to their pensions of any in the public sector - higher than judges, higher than civil servants - oh yes - and higher than politicians."

But he added: "We cannot and we must not lose the trust of the public.

"I understand and share your anger but we must not let that anger prevent us from trying to find a sensible way out of this dispute."

The pensions dispute is not due to be discussed formally at the conference until Thursday.

But the issue is threatening to cast a shadow over the whole four day event.

More strikes?

Dr Tom Dolphin, chairman of the BMA's junior doctors committee and a member of BMA Council, the decision-making body of the union, said it will be essential to "take the temperature" during the week.

Once the conference comes to an end on Thursday BMA Council will meet to elect a new leader and discuss what to do next on pensions.

The union has not ruled out calling more days of industrial action, although another tactic under consideration is withdrawing cooperation on the roll out of the government's NHS reforms in England.

The later would more than likely involve some form of boycotting of clinical commissioning groups, the GP-led bodies that will take on responsibility for the budget from April next year.

But experts questioned the wisdom of prolonging the dispute.

John Ralfe, an independent pensions consultant, said: "This is the end of a long process. The government has been talking to unions across the public sector for some time and if the BMA thinks it can do something now it is being unrealistic."

The Department of Health has already said there will be no new pensions offer.

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