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BMA rules out joining NHS-wide pensions strike in November

Exclusive The BMA has ruled out joining the NHS-wide industrial action over pensions which is planned for November, and is unlikely to ballot its members on any other possible action before Christmas.

At a meeting between 17 trade unions representing health professionals on Tuesday, the BMA indicated it would not be joining Unison, Unite and the GMB in balloting members over a day of strike action on 30 November, as a split emerged in the NHS-wide coalition formed to fight the Government's pension reforms.

The Pension Campaign Group meeting in London discussed co-ordinating action after the three unions announced their plans for action at last week's TUC  conference. But BMA officials said it would be logistically impossible to ballot their members in time for 30 November, even if the leadership agreed to pursue that course.

The Royal College of Midwives confirmed it had also ruled out joining the day of strike action.

In July the BMA's annual representative meeting voted to ballot doctors on ‘all forms of industrial action' if the Government pushed ahead with its pension plans – in particular, the scrapping of consultants' final-salary scheme. And at an earlier Pension Campaign Group meeting coalition last month, the BMA had pledged to ally with other health unions in a bid to present the Government with a united front, as ministers push ahead with plans to increase GP pension contributions and raise the retirement age.

But a BMA source told Pulse that BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum had decided that in addition to the logistical concerns of organising a ballot, there was more to be gained from pressing the Government through negotiation rather than the threat of industrial action.

BMA leaders are also understood to be worried about splits developing between GPs, who would face particular challenges in taking action given their self-employed status, and other doctors.

Instead of discussing industrial action, today's BMA Council meeting was instead asked to endorse a ‘message of support' to those health unions striking on 30 November, and to commit the organisation to join demonstrations on that day.

Speaking after the meeting, BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, said: 'We share the intense anger of all NHS staff about the way in which the Government is attempting to bring about wide-ranging changes to our pensions without genuine negotiation.'

'We are continuing to make sure our members understand what the complex changes will mean for their pensions and ensure their views are fed back to Government. We are certainly not ruling out industrial action of some kind in the future but, for doctors especially, it will always be a last resort in order to protect their patients.'

'In the meantime, we will be looking at ways to encourage and guide our members in showing their strength of feeling about the unfairness of public sector pension changes on the day of action.'

Unite health officer Fiona Farmer, who took part in the joint health union talks, told Pulse: ‘It is up to the BMA. It was the indication yesterday that they would not be taking part in action on 30 November.'

‘The view of all the health unions is that their memberships are very upset with the Government's pension plans but each different union has its own procedures for balloting. Obviously unions like Unite, Unison and the GMB, which represent lots of different sorts of workers, have regular ballots for action, unlike the single profession unions like the BMA.'

‘This presents different logistical challenges as there has not been a doctors strike since the 1970s and the indication we were given was that this made it impossible.'

A BMA spokesperson confirmed that action over pensions was not on the agenda at today's Council meeting.

Story updated 17:30

For the latest on the NHS pension changes, the best options for you and how to make your savings and investments work harder, attend our seminar in London on Wednesday 19 October 2011.

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