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Industrial action ballot could put strain on doctor-patient relations, but will avoid ‘horrible incident’, say BMA leaders

BMA leaders have admitted that industrial action could ‘strain' relationships with patients, but said they are working hard to prevent any ‘horrible incident' that could provoke a negative media backlash.

The admission comes the week before ballot papers are sent out to members, as BMA leaders said they would look closely at the impact of any industrial action to decide whether to hold rolling days of action.

In response to questions about the press reaction to any action, BMA leaders said the media response to the ballot had not been as ‘hostile' as they had expected, and said plans to provide only urgent or emergency care were specifically designed to minimise the chances of a ‘horrible incident' that could be portrayed in a negative light.

Speaking at one of the first pensions roadshows in London, Dr Steve Hajioff, a GP in London and chief officer of the BMA, said the BMA had looked closely at the lessons from other countries, and that they had shown mixed results on public opinion.

‘It has strained relationships in the shorter term, but those relationships do recover. That is why we are focussing on action that does little, or no, harm to patients.'

He explained that so far the media coverage had not been as ‘hostile' as he had expected, but said the BMA would be monitoring the public reaction if doctors did vote for industrial action.

He said: ‘It is designed in such a way to minimise the risk of the "horrible incident".'

‘But if you have the slightest doubt if a patient is urgent or an emergency then treat them.

BMA leaders urged all doctors to vote ‘yes' for both questions on the ballot paper, that asks whether doctors would support action short of a strike, and whether they would support a strike. They stressed this was needed to ensure the Government's lawyers were not able to block any industrial action.

Dr Tom Dolphin, chair of the BMA Junior Doctors' Committee at the BMA and a member of the pensions board at the BMA, said: ‘There is a strong risk that if we don't have votes for both questions, then the result will be struck down. Everyone should vote double-yes.'