The BMA is calling for Scottish hospital doctors to vote yes to taking industrial action
The Scottish Government faces a nervous wait to find out whether doctors will vote to take further industrial action over pension changes.
In June doctors across the UK took part in the profession’s first strike in almost 40 years. Hospital doctors in Scotland are now being balloted on whether they are willing to go on strike again during the busy winter period.
The BMA is calling for doctors to vote yes to taking industrial action, after they say the Scottish Government has left them with little choice.
“This is not where we wanted to be. Strike action is only ever a last resort, but the intransigence of this Scottish government has left us with little option but to press ahead with a ballot for further industrial action,” BMA Scottish consultants’ committee deputy chair, Dr Nikki Thompson, said.
The ballot is a baptism of fire for new Health Secretary Alex Neil, who told Holyrood magazine that he “regrets” that doctors are talking about further industrial action.
“I do really regret that they’ve gone to a ballot and are talking about industrial action, particularly as the Scottish Government is on the same page as them in opposing the pension reforms being imposed by diktat from London,” Neil said.
“I find it ironic that the industrial action that is being considered against the Scottish Government who are on the side of the doctors on this question, and yet there is no talk of similar action south of the border in the area covered by the UK Government, which is initiating these daft reforms. So I do regret it and I genuinely hope the doctors will not feel the need to take industrial action.”
Neil said the Scottish Government has been negotiating in good faith and still remains willing to consider a “Scottish deal”.
“We’ve said all along, and we will be much more in a position to do this once we get the bottom-line decisions from the Department of Health next week, but we’ve said all along that if it is possible to do a Scottish deal then we would be willing to do that.
“Now, we are under no illusion and we have not in any way hidden the fact that the restrictions that have been put upon us by the UK Government make it difficult. Because what they’ve said is if, for example, we were to put any more money into the pension pot for the doctors or indeed other NHS workers – because if you were going to do it you wouldn’t just do it for one group, you would do it for everybody – if we were to do that then every penny that we put in, they would take that money off us in terms of the grant they give us every year for government services. So that, obviously, is a major issue.
“The other major issue is we cannot divert resources from the front line of the National Health Service. But even within that there may be scope for us to make other savings to help fund some of this. But it is not going to be easy. It is very, very difficult. But we are willing to sit down. I’ve said to the BMA if they have ideas about how we can fund it without taking away resources from the front line, tell us what those ideas are.”
Whether or not the doctors carry through their threat to strike remains to be seen. However, by opposing the UK Government plans, the Scottish Government has “raised the expectations” of NHS staff in Scotland, the BMA has said. And in raising the spectre of further industrial action, doctors are sending a clear message to the Scottish Government that the ‘ a big boy did it and ran away’ excuse will not suffice and a genuine alternative to the English proposals must be found.