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BMA appeals to Treasury in last ditch attempt to head off industrial action over pensions

Exclusive: The BMA has made a direct plea to the Treasury for talks on pensions ‘as a matter of urgency', after the Department of Health snubbed requests to open negotiations.

With just ten days to go until BMA Council meets on the 25 February to discuss options for balloting GPs on industrial action, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum has appealed directly to Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, urging the Government to ‘work with' health unions to hammer out a ‘fair and amicable' deal for the NHS pensions scheme.

In his letter to Mr Alexander, Dr Meldrum said that the prospect of industrial action is something doctors ‘do not take lightly.' However he warned the Government that ‘doctors are too angry to allow the unfairness and scale of the changes to remain unacknowledged.'

Dr Meldrum said: ‘The strength of feeling among doctors is abundantly clear and cannot be underestimated. The prospect of industrial action is something that they do not take lightly. There has been no industrial action by doctors for almost 40 years and we want to do all we can to avoid action now.'

‘However, doctors are too angry to allow the unfairness and scale of the changes to remain unacknowledged. I therefore urge you to work with us and the other health unions to achieve a fair and amicable settlement on the future of the NHS pension scheme'

Pulse revealed earlier this week that no substantive talks have taken place over pensions and none are scheduled between now and the emergency meeting of BMA Council on the 25th of February.

BMA sources closely involved in pensions negotiations said the union had been forced to go over the Department of Health's head and write directly to the Treasury to outline its concerns, which they say is the department ‘calling the shots' on pensions,  after the DH snubbed talks.

The BMA source was downbeat on the prospect of the Government seeing ‘reason overnight' but said their response makes a ballot on industrial action more likely.

‘We now have to continue to try and to broaden our focus to the Treasury, which is the department ultimately calling the shots on this issue,' the source said.

Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA's Pensions Committee, warned GPs to expect a media backlash if a ballot on industrial action takes place.

‘In the event of a ballot on industrial action, we can expect some pretty unpleasant media coverage,' Dr Bailey said.

‘The fact that the NHS pension scheme is already sustainable and financially strong is a detail that some don't, or won't, hear, especially in the current financial climate.'

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon, said: ‘There is much more anger about these changes than the Government realises.'

‘It is deeply unjust to screw around with our pensions just four years after we've accepted we pay more contributions. It doesn't sit comfortably when you have a two-way contract that one side can just change.'

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