Doctors balloted over pensions
The chairman of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland has called on the Executive to consider alternative changes to the NHS pension scheme after leaders of the national body decided to ballot 100,000 doctors on industrial action.
Dr Paul Darragh, said the decision by the BMA was a reflection of the strength of feeling in the profession about the planned changes to the pension scheme.
"We appreciate that patients will be concerned that doctors are considering industrial action, but I trust they will understand why we have been forced to take this step. Government must understand that it is unacceptable to impose change to public sector pension schemes without negotiation and agreement.
"We are not asking for doctors to be treated differently, but only to be treated fairly. These changes affect all members of the NHS pension scheme, who have already seen significant negotiated changes to their pensions in recent years.
"Our pension scheme delivers a surplus to the Treasury to the tune of £2bn per year and is sustainable in the longer term. These latest Government proposals are therefore not only unfair but unnecessary.
"The Government has pushed us to the point where we are considering taking industrial action for the first time in a generation. Today's decision sends a strong signal to the ministers that they must re-open talks with the BMA and other trade unions, and in Northern Ireland this is an opportunity for the Executive to consider alternatives to these proposed changes."
Doctors and medical students will 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.
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.