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GPs likely to reject Government’s pensions offer

Exclusive GPs are currently planning to reject the Government’s proposed pensions changes and are favouring industrial action by a 2:1 majority, according to a Pulse survey.

Last month BMA Council announced it will put ministers’ final offer to a vote of members once negotiations have concluded, with a ‘no’ vote triggering a ballot on industrial action.

A Pulse survey of some 218 GPs this week found that 70% would reject the offer currently on the table – an offer which was improved in early November. 19% said they would accept the deal and 11% were undecided.

Asked how they would vote in a subsequent ballot on industrial action, 60% said they would vote for action, 27% against and 13% were undecided.

Under the revised deal put forward by chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, GPs will still have to pay increased pensions contributions and eventually retire at 68, but their expected level of post-retirement income was raised 8% and those within 10 years of retirement will not be affected by the changes.

Negotiations are ongoing and scheduled to conclude at the end of this month, although union sources have suggested that timetable may be ‘unrealistic’.

Responding to Pulse’s poll, GPs expressed outrage at the pensions proposals.

Dr Martin Wilkinson, a GP in Birmingham, said: ‘Most practices’ income saw a significant drop in the last two years, yet costs are rising by 5%. NHS contributions have already increased.  I think we have done enough and a further drop in take home pay will seriously damage the economy.’

Dr Alastair Taylor, a GP in Glasgow, added: ‘The Government’s offer is just unfair given recent reform and the Treasury surplus from pensions at present.’

Despite the overall support for industrial action, opinion differed on the form that action should take. While some backed a full strike by GPs, others suggested withdrawing from clinical commissioning groups, boycotting Choose and Book and refusing to register with the CQC.

The findings follow last week’s public sector pensions strike which saw GPs take to the streets in support of thousands of NHS colleagues and practice staff.

Dr Anna Livingstone, a GP in Tower Hamlets, east London who led an early-morning demonstration by practice staff,  accused ministers of asking public sector staff to work until they are ‘using walking frames’ and said she was out to defend ‘the health and wellbeing of the staff we work with and our patients’.

Dr David Bailey, deputy chair of the BMA’s pensions committee and a GP in Cardiff, said the Government must not ‘underestimate how angry the profession is’.

He added: ‘We have to see what comes out [of negotiations] but I’m not at all sanguine that the profession will be happy when they see what is finally on the table.’