“Shame of £100,000 doctors’ strike vote over pension plan,” was how the Sun reported the news that doctors are to take industrial action for the first time in 40 years.
“A doctors’ strike puts the ethos of the NHS at risk,” the Telegraph said, while the Guardian carried an article by Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter explaining why he was resigning from the BMA as he believes striking as a doctor can never be justified.
Others, however, made space available to let doctors explain their decision.
In an open letter that was printed in UK newspapers, doctors defended their decision to strike and said it had not been “taken lightly”.
“It is with great regret that we, UK doctors, have been forced to take industrial action in order that our voice is heard by the Government,” it stated.
The letter also attempted to reassure patients that the move will not impact on patient safety and was “vital”.
However, in a climate of wage freezes, cuts, redundancies and rising unemployment, well-paid doctors may struggle to find public sympathy and support for their cause. UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley warned that: “The public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA.” He argued that the NHS pension would remain “one of the best available anywhere”, pointing out that a new doctor joining the revised scheme could expect a pension of £68,000 a year on their retirement.
However, in the open letter, the BMA argued that doctors are now being asked to work much longer, up to 68 years of age, and to contribute much more of their salary, up to 14.5 per cent, towards their pensions.
“We are not looking for preferential treatment from the Government but we do want fair treatment.
“This is the first industrial action by doctors since 1975 and it is not a decision we have taken lightly.”
The decision follows a ballot of members on industrial action over changes to the NHS pension scheme. More than 104,000 medics across the UK were balloted, with half responding. Of those, 79 per cent of GPs, 84 per cent of hospital consultants and 92 per cent of junior doctors voted in favour of action.
Doctors in Scotland will also be involved in the 24-hour protest on 21 June, which will see doctors stop providing non-urgent care. They emphasised that emergency care will still take place.
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the BMA in Scotland, said: “We have taken this decision to take action reluctantly, but it is the only means by which we can demonstrate our anger at the UK Government’s unfair and unnecessary changes to the NHS pension scheme. They have refused to negotiate meaningfully with us and the other trade unions and, given doctors’ strength of feeling, we have been left with no option but to go forward with this action.”