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Pensions fury as BMA reneges on plan to include GPs in industrial action ballot

Exclusive Grassroots GPs have responded furiously to the BMA's decision to back away from industrial action over pensions, as BMA leaders suggested any future ballot on action may now only cover hospital doctors.

The BMA indicated last week at a meeting of 17 trade unions representing health professionals that it would not be joining Unison, Unite and the GMB in balloting members over a day of strike action on 30 November, in protest over plans to increase NHS pension contributions and raise the retirement age. Pulse understands that any ballot on industrial action over consultants' pensions will now not include GPs.

In July, the BMA's annual representative meeting voted to ballot doctors on ‘all forms of industrial action' over the Government's plans to scrap consultants' final-salary scheme, and at the time the BMA said any ballot would cover the entire profession. But after advice from BMA lawyers that striking is almost impossible for GPs, any ballot on the final-salary scheme will now be limited to hospital doctors.

BMA Council member Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury, said GPs could yet be balloted on options for non-direct action such as boycotting commissioning, but warned options for protest were limited: ‘We have a problem as GP principals because if salaried GPs took industrial action it would leave us with too much work to be able to cope with.'

'Under trade union law we would not be able to hire locums to fill in, and I have had legal advice to that effect. There is no way we could make up the work that salaried GPs do and no doctor wants to do anything that could harm patients.'

But many rank and file GPs responded angrily to the BMA's decision. Dr John Orchard, a GP in Alfreton, Derbyshire, said: ‘This is typical BMA doublespeak. We were told we had to be part of the whole NHS union movement, yet we are now not supporting other unions. The BMA is letting everybody down.'

Dr Julian Hall, a GP in Halesowen, West Midlands, said: ‘If the BMA is not prepared to take industrial action over this, it is quite simply not fit for purpose.'

Dr Brian Cross, a GP in Gedling, Nottingham, said: ‘The BMA is going to sell us out, just as it did in the early 1990s.'

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said: ‘The BMA is aware of doctors' anger about the threat to our pensions and the desire by many to express that anger in a way that makes the Government take notice. There are ways to do that that don't leave us open to legal challenge nor put patients at risk.'