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BMA rejects final pensions offer and pushes ahead with plans for industrial action ballot

The BMA is to proceed with plans to ballot GPs on industrial action after a final pensions offer tabled by the Government refused to offer any major concessions.

The Department of Health's ‘proposed final agreement' for the NHS Pension scheme, published today, marks the end of negotiations between ministers and unions. The offer makes no concessions on key planks of the reforms that are fiercely opposed by the BMA - notably a proposed hike of 6% in pension contributions by 2014/15 and a shake-up of the pensions retirement age that will see many doctors forced to work until they are 68.

The DH said that the ‘headline elements' of the pensions reforms remain unchanged from the offer formally rejected by the BMA in January. But some additional changes have been added, including a commitment that death in service lump sums will remain at two times actual pensionable pay and an option for members to pay additional contributions to fund retirement up to three years early without facing actuarial reductions.

In an attempt to derail moves towards industrial action, the DH proposal also demanded a commitment from unions to shelve their plans for ballots while members are consulted on the ‘final agreement'.

A series of health unions, including UNISON, said they would consult their members on the offer. But the BMA said it would not be signing up to the document and said the Government's refusal to budge on pensions left the BMA with ‘little choice' but to press ahead with the first ballot of doctors on industrial action since the 1970s.

The Department of Health proposal stated: ‘The Government have made clear this sets out their final position on the scheme design, which unions agreed to take to their executives as the outcome of negotiations on scheme design.'

‘This includes a commitment to seek executives' agreement to the cessation of any industrial action on pension reform whilst consulting with members. If the proposals are not accepted by a sufficient number of trade unions, the Government reserves its position on all aspects of this proposed scheme design.'

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said: ‘The conclusion of talks at scheme level follows constructive discussion with unions on the final details of the Heads of Agreement set out last year. These agreements mean that public servants who have dedicated their lives to serving the public will rightly continue to receive pensions that are among the very best available, while delivering the Government's key objectives in full. This is a fair deal for public service workers and an affordable deal for the taxpayer.'

But BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘There has been no significant progress on the proposed NHS pension scheme changes that were published in December and the BMA's position remains unchanged.'

‘We still want the Government to return to meaningful talks about the substance of their proposals – in particular the very substantial and unfair contribution increases and the age to which doctors will need to work to claim their full pension. Without a commitment to such talks and given the very clearly expressed views of our members, we have little choice but to continue with our plans to ballot doctors.'

‘We will continue to take every possible step to ensure that, whatever action is taken, it does not cause harm to patients, and as such have ruled out strike action.'

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