It is now official – the British Medical Association today have voted to go on strike on June 21st for a period of 24 hours. This means that all non urgent surgery, such as hip and knee replacements will be cancelled if booked for that day, and doctors surgeries will only deal with emergency cases, not regular pre-booked appointments. The BMA are calling the strike a ‘go slow’ and not a proper strike but warn that in the vote that was taken today, it was included that further action and more ‘go slows’ could possibly be on the cards in the very near future. BMA leader Dr Hamish Meldrum said while the action would be disruptive, doctors would ensure that patient safety was not at all compromised. He said, “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.” He reiterated however that A&E departments and maternity wards would remain open for the duration of the strike.
The ballot was taken by 104,000 doctors and hospital consultants and around half of those balloted responded and the results are quite clear; 79% of GPs, 84% of hospital consultants and 92% of junior doctors who responded voted in favour. The reason the strike is going ahead is that the government now want to change the pension plans of these workers. A typical salary for a consultant is around £116,000 and they will retire on approximately £48,000 a year, but now the government want to change the existing plans and raise the retirement age from 65 to 68 and increase the contributions that workers are paying. It is not surprising that the Secretary of State Andrew Lansley has condemned the strike, stating that, “The public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA’s call for industrial action over their pensions. People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone. We have been clear that the NHS pension scheme is, and will remain, one of the best available anywhere. Every doctor within 10 years of retirement will receive the pension they expected, when they expected. Today’s newly qualified doctor who works to 65 will get the same pension as the average consultant retiring today would receive at 60 – the BMA have already accepted a pension age of 65. If doctors choose to work to 68 then they could expect to receive a larger pension of £68,000.”
It is not a myth that doctors and consultants have the best pensions amongst the public sector employees and account for two-thirds of the top 1% of pay outs. Because of this, the government want doctors pensions, amongst other high paying ones, to subsidise the pensions of the lower paid. As such, their plans are for contributions to rise the greatest for the highest earners, meaning those earning over £110,000 a year will end up contributing 14.5% of their salary. The problem is that doctors feel they are being unfairly targeted and have argued that the top-paid civil servants are not being targeted in the same way. This is the first time since 1975 that doctors have taken taken industrial action, but it remains to be seen if the Royal College of Nursing will follow suit. It also held a ballot where the majority rejected the government’s pension changes, but the turnout was much lower.
If you think you may be affected by the strike on June 21st, you can call your GP anytime between now and the day of the industrial action, and hospitals are sending out letters of cancellation to patients who have non urgent surgery booked. Remember that A&E departments will remain open and GP surgeries will be open for emergencies also.