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BMA faces GP backlash over pensions climbdown

The BMA's decision to suspend all industrial action in the pensions dispute has been met with fierce criticism from sections of the profession.

BMA Council ruled yesterday not to take any further industrial action in the on-going dispute with the Government, as it was clear that ‘only escalated action' would prompt ministers to rethink the changes, which the BMA said it was ‘unwilling to do' because of the impact on patients.

But some GPs said they feared the decision could potentially open the gateway for the Government to hit the profession with other sanctions in future, while others questioned the BMA's roles as a union, and threatened to consider withdrawing their membership.

The BMA told Pulse that Council had debated further action at length, but felt options such as boycotting commissioning or revalidation would be ‘counterproductive'.

It said the council vote was not unanimous, but insisted the outcome reflected the views gathered from the profession.

It said the council had debated at length other means of action, including potential boycotting of clinical commissioning or revalidation, but said it had opted against these ways forward because of concerns that it could be counterproductive and open the door for the private sector to step in. The BMA also said it will continue the campaign against GPs working longer.

A BMA spokesperson said: ‘There was a lengthy debate where a wide range of views were expressed.  The main focus was on which course of action would most further the interests of members and their patients.  Council also considered views of the wider membership which also reflects the decision that was reached.'

‘[Boycotts] along with various other forms of action has been considered at length.  There is a strong argument that advising GPs to withdraw from commissioning would not influence the government, and would be counterproductive, creating opportunities for the private sector to become more involved.'

The spokesperson added: ‘The BMA continues to provide a wide range of benefits to members. The decision to suspend plans for further industrial action does not mean we have given up the fight on pensions.  We will continue to voice doctors' anger with the pensions changes, both in talks with the Government, and by campaigning against the planned increase to the Normal Pension Age.'

But GPs responding to the news yesterday were unhappy with the decision.

Dr Richard Van Mellaerts, a GP in Kingston-upon-Thames, said on Twitter:  ‘BMA capitulates over pensions. Towel been thrown in then. Rolled over yet again.'

GPs on Pulstoday.co.uk expressed similar sentiments, with one saying: ‘No matter what the rhetoric says, the message we are giving the Government is clear. We have lost the war. Feel free to hit us even harder next time. Out of hours for no extra pay, anyone?'

Another GP added: ‘Regardless of spin in terms of protecting our patients, the role of the BMA as a union fighting for its members has been seriously undermined. ‘

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, said: ‘The NHS will breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no more industrial action for the moment. We understand that there is a great deal of concern around the pensions issue but it is right that we move on and get patients out of the argument. The suspension of possible industrial action will help us all to redouble our work, in partnership, on this challenging NHS pension agenda.'

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