Doctors balloted over pensions
More than 100,000 doctors are to be balloted on industrial action over pensions in a dramatic escalation of the bitter dispute over the Government's controversial public sector reforms.
Leaders of the British Medical Association (BMA) have decided that doctors and medical students should vote on whether to take action - the first ballot if its kind since the 1970s. However the BMA ruled out strikes in a move designed to limit the impact on patients across the country.
The decision follows overwhelming rejection by doctors and medical students of the "final" offer on pensions. The BMA said the changes would see younger doctors paying more than £200,000 extra over their lifetime in pension contributions and work eight years longer, to 68.
Officials have urged the Government to reopen talks with the health unions, but said neither the Treasury or the Health Department had signalled any change to their position.
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA council, said: "Doctors are not asking for special treatment - quite the opposite. Just four years ago, NHS staff agreed to major reform of the NHS pension scheme to make it fair, affordable and sustainable. Now the Government wants to go back on that deal.
"The NHS pension scheme is in a strong financial position and the economic downturn does not affect that as staff have already accepted responsibility for covering any future cost increases.
"Taking industrial action remains a last resort and we urge the Government to work with us - and the other health unions - to find a fairer way forward. Should industrial action be necessary, the priority would be to limit disruption and prevent harm to patients. That is why we have completely ruled out strike action and are committed to reviewing the risks for patients at every stage."
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley told the BBC that he was disappointed with the decision, because in negotiations before Christmas heads of agreement had been reached with all the NHS trade unions except Unite.
He said the 2008 scheme had not been sustainable in the long term, and was not fair to taxpayers.
"All we are asking is that normal pension age in the NHS scheme for doctors should be in line with the state pension age," he said. A consultant retiring at 68 under this scheme would be retiring with a pension of £68,000 a year. "I think that's a pension reflective of the value we attach to doctors, and I hope they will recognise that."