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‘We are entering unknown territory’

Pulse reporter Andy McNicoll looks at the strength of the opposition to the Government’s planned pensions reforms at a recent BMA rally.

If actions speak louder than words, then the turnout at the BMA pension roadshows last week offered a crystal-clear message to ministers.

More than 1,700 GPs and other doctors attended 14 hastily arranged events to debate the proposed reforms, with many more logging on online. And more than 400 cancelled whatever plans they had for last Friday evening and headed to BMA House in central London.

The results of the BMA’s poll of members, which closed on Monday as Pulse went to press, were to inform the BMA Council’s decision this week on whether to stage the first ballot of doctors on industrial action since the 1970s.

But last Friday the talk was less about whether action should be taken – and more about what form that action should take.

Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA’s consultants committee, was blunt. ‘Nobody is going to like doctors who take industrial action. Some may admire us, but none will like us,’ he said. ‘We should be under no illusions. We are entering unknown territory.’

In the past, such a warning might have dismissed all talk of industrial action – but in 2012, GP opposition seems made of sterner stuff. Anger over a double whammy of increased contributions and a raised retirement age is palpable, and attendees soon started grappling with a way to make their views known while protecting patients.

Withdrawing from commissioning was one option. Working ‘without enthusiasm’ another. A show of hands found doctors hesitant about all-out strike but supportive of limited action, such as providing emergency cover only.

Just how far GPs take the fight remains to be seen, but Dr Tom Dolphin, chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, warned it was younger doctors who had most at stake: ‘We need to make this as painful as possible for the Government so that future governments think twice about coming for our pensions again,’ he said.

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