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Reaction: BMA decision to ballot on industrial action

Following the news this weekend that the BMA is to ballot its members on industrial action short of strikes, read all the reaction from leading figures on both sides of the dispute.

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said the decision to ballot for the first time in 40 years ‘has not been taken lightly’.

He added: ‘We’ve pursued every avenue we possibly could to bring the Government back to meaningful talks. With no signs of movement, we simply cannot ignore this strength of feeling by medical staff. We therefore have no other option but to ballot on industrial action.’

On why the BMA is to stop short of balloting on strike action, Dr Meldrum said the priority would be to ‘limit disruption and prevent harm to patients’ and members are ‘committed to reviewing the risks for patients at every stage’.

In a warning to the Government, Dr Meldrum said anger over the pensions issue could see ‘a big tranche of experienced doctors’ leaving the NHS early’.

Dr Brian Keighley, chair of BMA Scotland and Dr Paul Darragh, chair of BMA Northern Ireland echoed Dr Meldrum’s committment to continuing standards of patient care and Dr Darragh called the decision a ‘reflection of the strength of feeling’ among the profession and condemned the Government for trying to ‘impose change to public sector pension schemes without negotiation and agreement’.

Dr Keighley said the reforms were ‘unnecessary and unfair’.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley said the move would draw ‘no concessions’ from the Government and warned that action would ‘harm patients’.

He said: ‘There is no justification for industrial action – it would harm patients. We have been holding weekly discussions with all the trades unions, including the BMA and it is premature for them to ballot their members on industrial action – no concessions will be won through these threats.’

Mr Lansley added that doctors ‘have benefited hugely from the current final salary scheme arrangements compared to other staff groups’, and ‘lower earner members should not be footing the bill’.

A Department of Health spokesperson then branded claims that the Government has not been listening to trade unions including the BMA as ‘untrue’, claiming the department has ‘held meetings involving the BMA almost every week’.

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, shared Mr Lansley’s concerns around potential damage to patient care caused by industrial action: ‘This announcement will be disconcerting for patients and disappointing to the majority staff who recognise the importance of the essential services they provide and the impact industrial action will have on patient care.’