Belfast Telegraph

GPs' action could lead to chaos at surgeries

By Lisa Smyth

The health service in Northern Ireland looks set to be plunged into chaos as doctors moved one step closer to staging industrial action in a row over proposed changes to their pensions.

The British Medical Association (BMA) — the doctors’ union — has voted to ballot members on industrial action after rejecting the Government’s reforms.

It said the changes would see younger doctors paying more than £200,000 extra over their lifetime in pension contributions and working eight years longer, to 68.

If doctors vote in favour of the action, it could mean planned operations and hospital outpatient appointments are cancelled and patients may be unable to book an appointment to see a GP.

This would mean GP surgeries across Northern Ireland would hold walk-in clinics without allocated appointments for patients.

Emergency care would continue as normal.

No final decision has been made on the type of action, but the union has said patient safety will not be compromised.

The decision to ballot BMA members comes less than three months after public services in Northern Ireland were paralysed by a day of strike action by workers also angry over changes to their pensions.

While the BMA was not involved, there has been growing anger among the profession in recent months over the proposed reforms. It is thought likely members will vote in favour of action.

Dr Paul Darragh, BMA (NI) chairman, said: “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.”

Dr Darragh said doctors are not asking to be treated differently, just fairly.

“These changes affect all members of the NHS pension scheme, who have already seen significant negotiated changes to their pensions in recent years,” he said.

“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.”

More than 80% of 46,000 members who responded to a BMA survey said the Government's offer should be rejected.

Background

It is the first time such a ballot has been held by the union since 1975. The NHS pension was overhauled four years and at the time the Government said this was necessary to make it affordable. Doctors are angry further changes are now planned which the Government has said are necessary to ensure the future of the scheme. However, the BMA has argued the current pension scheme is sustainable.

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