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BMA rejects pensions deal and draws up plans for industrial action

The BMA has formally rejected the Government's pensions offer after a survey of members showed overwhelming opposition to the deal - but has given ministers until next month to improve their offer before it decides whether to hold the first ballot of doctors on industrial action since the 1970s.

After a BMA Council meeting today,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.

Some 84% of respondents opted to reject the Government's final pensions offer, with a majority backing some form of industrial action. Asked what action they would be willing to take, 20% of members – and 17% of GPs – said they would consider ‘any kind of industrial action including strike action', while 43% - and 38% of GPs – backed ‘industrial action short of strike action', such as providing an emergency service only.

The BMA said that ‘all attempts will be made to ensure that any plans for action would minimise any risk of harm to patients'.

Just over a quarter of members said they would be ‘unlikely to take any kind of industrial action but would like to take some action to protest against the changes', while 9% said they would be unlikely to take any action at all.

The BMA poll also revealed that over one in three doctors aged 50 or over said they will retire early if the Government's pensions reforms go through.

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said: 'Industrial action remains a last resort and the Government must urgently reconsider its damaging plans. The action we are considering is unprecedented in recent decades.  This demonstrates the current level of discontent among NHS staff.'

'The strength and scale of feeling among doctors is abundantly clear - they feel let down and betrayed, and for many this is the final straw. Doctors are at the forefront of attempts to save the NHS £20 billion, while trying to protect patient care, are in the midst of huge system reform in England, which is causing chaos in many areas, and are about to enter a fourth successive year of a pay freeze.'

‘Now on top of this, they are facing wholesale changes to their pension scheme, which was radically overhauled less than four years ago and is actually delivering a positive cashflow to the Treasury.'

‘Forcing doctors to work to almost 70 is one of our most serious concerns as it could put pressure on doctors to work beyond the age at which they feel competent and safe.'

In November, BMA Council said it had ‘decided to step up preparations for a possible ballot on industrial action, which would follow the vote in the event of a rejection of the proposals.' But Pulse revealed last week that BMA Council would not be bound by the results of the survey, and could opt to continue talks.

NHS Employers said it welcomed the BMA's decision to 'continue discussions', but a Department of Health spokesperson suggested ministers would refuse to improve their offer.

'The Government has made an offer which is fair for NHS pension scheme members and for the taxpayer,' she said.

'It is disappointing that some BMA members who responded to this poll did not recognise that the agreement reached with the BMA and other NHS unions before Christmas represents the best deal available.'