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Labour backs industrial action by GPs

Exclusive: The Labour Party will support the proposed industrial action by GPs over pensions so long as measures are taken to prevent it damaging patient care, Pulse can reveal.

Shadow health minister Diane Abbott said she felt that there would be ‘public support' for a day of action on pensions, and that Labour would have ‘a lot of sympathy for the BMA'.

Her comments represent a significant move politically, with Labour normally extremely cautious about offering any support for industrial action for fear of being seen as too close to the unions. But in a sign of the fierce arguments to come, the Patients Association has taken the opposite view, warning of its ‘deep concerns' over the proposed action.

GPs said Labour's support would be a major boost to the prospects of a vote for industrial action by providing political cover.

Ms Abbott, Labour spokesperson for public health, said Labour could not support any action that would harm patients, but as long as that was not the case, would regard it as justified.

She said: ‘So long as they are not compromising patient safety, clearly the BMA has a right to take industrial action and so long as it is a legal ballot, they have enough of a mandate.

‘We have a lot of sympathy for the BMA because the Government has lost the confidence of professionals generally on its reforms, but also on the question of pensions. I think there will be public support. The public trust health professionals more than they trust ministers.'

But Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘We are deeply concerned how A&E departments will cope if people are denied consultations elsewhere.

‘It also opens up patient safety issues. How does one identify when it's an emergency? It is a huge risk. It is a drastic action and its only impact would be on innocent patients.'

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, GPC negotiator, said Labour's support was ‘encouraging': ‘It is reassuring politicians can see this is not action against patients.'

Dr Andrew Dearden, member of the BMA pensions committee and a GP in Cardiff, said: ‘It is good to have people agreeing with us.'