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Doctors face pension reforms ballot

The first ballot of doctors on industrial action since 1975 will go ahead within weeks if the Government does not rethink the major changes it is making to NHS pensions, it has been warned.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it will ask NHS doctors across the UK whether they are willing to provide only urgent and emergency care for a 24-hour period.

Under the BMA's plans, patient safety would be the priority, it said. Doctors scheduled to be in work would go to their usual workplaces, and provide all emergency care and other care urgently needed, but would not undertake some duties that could safely be postponed, said the BMA.

The action would be likely to involve the postponement of routine operations and non-urgent outpatient appointments in hospitals. GP practices would remain open and staffed so they could see patients in need of urgent attention, but routine, non-urgent appointments would not be available on the day of action.

A series of actions is being planned but the impact on patients of the day of action would be reviewed before a decision to proceed with further action was made.

In January, 84% of the 46,300 doctors and medical students who responded to a BMA survey rejected the Government's pension changes, with more than six in 10 saying they were personally prepared to take industrial action.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: "We're taking this step very reluctantly and only because the Government will not engage with us to even try to find a fairer way forward.

"NHS staff agreed to major changes to their pensions only four years ago. As a result, the scheme is delivering £2 billion to the Treasury each year and staff have taken on sole responsibility for covering increases in costs due to improvements in longevity in the future.

"Now the Government wants to tear up a deal reached through genuine negotiation and impose these further, unnecessary changes. There is still time for the Government to rethink its plans, but if it does not, we have made a firm commitment that patient safety will be the over-riding priority."

The ballot is scheduled to open on May 14 and close on May 29. BMA Council will make a decision on what to do next following the results of the ballot. Plans for the day of action will be further developed with doctors locally and following discussions with employers.

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