Lansley warns BMA industrial action threat will win ‘no concessions’ on pensions
Health secretary Andrew Lansley has told the BMA ministers will not ‘re-open' key elements of its final pensions offer for further negotiation and has warned the threat or use of industrial action by doctors will secure ‘no concessions', just hours after the union threatened to ballot members.
In a strongly-worded reply to BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum's formal rejection of the Government's final offer, Mr Lansley warned industrial action by doctors would ‘harm patients'. He agreed to meet Dr Meldrum for further discussions over pensions but delivered a blow to the BMA's hopes of securing a ‘significant' shift from Government by insisting that the DH will ‘not reopen the heads of agreement' on pensions.
The heads of agreement document sets out the Government's ‘final position' on the main pension reforms, including plans to abolish final salary schemes – a proposal that the BMA has strongly objected to. The ‘contribution rates and structure' remain on the table for ‘continuing discussion' in 2012, raising the possibility of concessions in this area, with the BMA fiercely opposed to current proposals to raise doctors' contribution rate to 14.5% by 2014, compared to a current rate of 8.5%.
Last night the BMA formally rejected the Government's pensions offer after a survey of members showed overwhelming opposition to the deal - but said it would give ministers until next month to improve their offer before deciding whether to hold the first ballot of doctors on industrial action since the 1970s.
After a BMA Council meeting, which considered the results of a survey of members, the BMA warned it will hold an emergency council meeting on 25 February to discuss ‘the options for balloting on industrial action' unless there is a ‘significant change' in the Government's position. The BMA's survey found almost two thirds of members would support some form of industrial action.
Mr Lansley wrote to the BMA: ‘You will understand why I believe this is an excellent deal, which your membership should accept. Of course, we can meet and there are issues we can discuss when we meet, but you know that I will not re-open the heads of agreement which you signed.'
‘I should also, and particularly, emphasise again the point I made to you on the telephone. Industrial action will harm patients. No concessions on the issues you raised in your letter or any other issues will be won through the threat or use or industrial action. Nor will the public accept, nor understand, how you can sign up to an excellent deal and walk away from it on the strength of an informal survey to which less than 36% of all your members responded.'
But a BMA spokesperson responded: ‘It's completely disingenuous for the Government to claim that the BMA 'accepted' the offer in December. It has always been the case - as was made very clear to the Government at the time - that we would put the offer to our members. They have now made their views very clear. The tone the Government is taking in public currently is very unhelpful. We hope they will reconsider their stance and get back round the table.'