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Treasury to force through reform of pensions before BMA decides on further industrial action

Exclusive: The Government is to push through its controversial reforms to GPs' pensions before the BMA has a chance to decide whether to take further industrial action, Pulse understands.

A source close to health secretary Andrew Lansley told Pulse the Treasury is set to formally announce the reforms before parliamentary recess in mid-
July, ahead of the next meeting of BMA Council on 18 July, where it will decide what action to take next. 

Mr Lansley last week wrote to Unison, which is co-ordinating the NHS-staff side of the pensions negotiations, suggesting the overall package – which will lead to higher contributions from GPs and a pension age of 68 – will be formalised imminently.

The Treasury announcement will end all talks on higher contribution rates for GPs post-2015, and a move to career-average revalued earnings for salaried NHS staff. Mr Lansley said there were two outstanding issues to resolve – the contribution rate for 2013 and 2014, and the arrangements for NHS staff who felt unable to sustain their current role until the age of 68.

The source told Pulse these issues would not need to be resolved before the Treasury announcement.

The news comes after a disappointing turnout for the BMA's day of action last month. Despite this, the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting passed motions last week calling on BMA Council to consider further industrial action including a boycott of the commissioning process, separate actions for different branches of practice and further days of action.

At the end of the conference in Bournemouth, BMA Council elected as its new chair Dr Mark Porter (see above). However, the meeting did not discuss whether to take further industrial action.

Immediately after his election, Dr Porter said he would seek an ‘urgent meeting' with Mr Lansley to discuss pensions. But the Department of Health said any negotiations would have to be through the official trades union talks.

Rachael Maskell, the head of healthcare at Unite, said the Government was willing to discuss limited changes, but seemed determined to force through the major thrust of the reforms: ‘Lansley is saying: "Sign a blank cheque and we will sort out the issues." That is unsatisfactory.'

Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA's pensions committee, said the total money available was still inadequate: ‘This is not a change, because the DH clearly said the Treasury is not prepared to change on the total cost envelope. Our position remains that there was a cost-sharing agreement reached in 2008, which said that the staff side will bear any future cost.'

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, said: ‘The battle is never over until it is won.'

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