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GPs face pension ballot as BMA joins NHS pact

GPs are set to be balloted on what could become co-ordinated, NHS-wide industrial action against the Government's pension reforms after the BMA forged a strategic alliance with key health unions.

BMA leaders have agreed with 16 other unions representing healthcare workers to plead a special case for the NHS Pension Scheme, with the threat of combined industrial action if ministers refuse to back down.

The move came as delegates at the BMA's annual representative meeting voted to ballot doctors on ‘all forms of industrial action' if the Government presses ahead with its pension plans – in particular, the scrapping of consultants' final-salary scheme.

A BMA spokesperson told Pulse any ballot would take place across the medical profession and would be likely to cover all of the Government's pension proposals, including moves to raise GPs' retirement age to 65 and beyond, and to potentially double contributions.

Some 87% of delegates backed a section of the pension motion authorising a ballot ‘in the event there is a Government plan to halt the final-salary scheme'. They also backed another part of the same motion warning a third of GPs could quit over the pension squeeze.

The BMA spokesperson said: ‘The reason the current NHS scheme is strong is because the health unions stood together and agreed changes in partnership. So the talks we're seeking would be NHS-wide rather than specific to doctors and would acknowledge the unique situation the NHS scheme is in.'

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: ‘There needs to be scheme-specific talks. The 17 unions with members in the NHS scheme met very recently and came to that conclusion. The health unions have got a very good track record of working together on pensions.'

Jon Skewes, director of employment relations at the Royal College of Midwives, said: ‘All the health unions are talking together. If there is an imposition of the changes we might well ballot our members at the same time and look at co-ordinated industrial action.'

The Royal College of Nursing and Unison confirmed they were also co-operating on NHS-wide protection of the current scheme, last renegotiated in 2008.

It is unlikely GPs would be expected to take any action that would deny care to patients, and BMA members would not be compelled to take action even if approved by ballot.

During the BMA debate, consultant paediatrician Dr Andrew Rowland said: ‘This does not mean a strike. It could be sticking to job plans, not doing unpaid overtime or working without enthusiasm.'

But Dr Andrew Dearden, chair of the BMA pensions committee, said: ‘The Government should be absolutely clear we will use every means at our disposal to defend our pensions. The motions seem clear in their message – enough is enough. We will not accept this ideological attack and if you don't want a fight, stop throwing punches.'

Dr Hamish Meldrum, BMA council chair, said: ‘The profession will act responsibly – but we will not accept an unwarranted and unfair assault on our pensions.'

In London, GPs took to the streets last week in a demonstration in support of public-sector workers striking over the pension proposals.

Protester Dr Kambiz Boomla, a GP in Tower Hamlets, said he was prepared to take action: ‘We only had our scheme renegotiated three years ago and there's absolutely no reason why that should be revisited as it's in surplus. It would just be a tax.'