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BMA calls in lawyers to advise on NHS pension industrial action

Exclusive The BMA is taking legal advice on options for industrial action over the Government’s proposed changes to NHS pensions, amid rising tension in talks between ministers and health unions.

Dr Andrew Dearden, BMA pensions committee chair and a GP in Cardiff, told Pulse the association was currently consulting lawyers in response to what he describes as a ‘straightforward tax on health workers’.

It follows a high-level meeting in London at the end of last month between health unions about the potential to co-ordinate industrial action.

Asked about legal issues over industrial action, Dr Dearden said: ‘What we’re looking at is the whole question of industrial action over pensions.’

‘The annual representative meeting was very clear: they expect us the BMA to take all opportunities to express our dismay at these unfettered taxes on pensions.’

‘It would be illogical for us not to explore all avenues and to be fully informed before we take any decisions. We are in the process of informing ourselves.’

Union chiefs including BMA council chair Dr Hamish Meldrum met last month to set up a dedicated Pension Campaign Group and discussed legal issues, types of action to take, national and local protocols, emergency cover and regulatory bodies.

In a statement released after the meeting, the Pension Campaign Group said: ‘The unions remain committed to pension negotiations and expects the Government to reciprocate and not set out unrealistic timetables or ultimatums.’

‘One of the clear aims of the campaign group is to ensure that patient safety remains paramount. The group will look at all issues relating to the pensions negotiations, including the possibility of industrial action, in the event the talks fail to make progress.’

Iain Patterson, an expert on union law and partner at legal firm Browne Jacobson, told Pulse that the BMA would be taking detailed advice on procedure to ensure any action taken was legitimate.

‘We have seen previously how the Royal Mail and British Airways used mistakes in the union process to secure injunctions to prevent action by their workers, so the procedure has to be spot on to withstand scrutiny in a testing area of law,’ he said.

The BMA has warned the next generation of GPs will be hardest hit by the Government’s ‘assault’ on pensions and that all GPs face paying up to £230,000 in extra contributions for a ‘far worse pension’. The BMA is calling for all GPs to write to the Government’s consulation on the proposed changes on the NHS pension – you can use our template to respond here.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘Constructive talks on pensions are still ongoing. It would be very wrong to make assumptions about their outcome.’