Exclusive: Poll finds GPs back industrial action on pensions

For full results of the exclusive poll for GP magazine ahead of this weekend's crunch BMA meeting on industrial action over pensions see below.

Dr Meldrum: 'Doctors are too angry to allow the unfairness and scale of the changes to remain unacknowledged' (Photograph: M Case Green)
Dr Meldrum: 'Doctors are too angry to allow the unfairness and scale of the changes to remain unacknowledged' (Photograph: M Case Green)

Most GPs would be prepared to take some form of industrial action and more than 40% would go on strike in protest over NHS pension reforms, a GP poll has found.

On 25 February, an emergency meeting of the BMA Council will decide whether to ballot members on taking industrial action over NHS pension changes. The BMA will then decide what form any industrial action could take (see box below).

GP's survey suggests that the vast majority of GPs support taking industrial action, but that most want to send a message to the government without affecting patient care.

Pension fight: What happens next?
  • On 25 February, the BMA Council will decide whether to ballot members on industrial action. It will then need to decide what form any industrial action could take.
  • BMA members would then be balloted on whether to take industrial action.
  • The BMA must take any industrial action within four weeks of ballot responses being collected.
  • Health unions, including Unite, are deciding a date for industrial action, expected to take place on 28 or 29 March. The BMA could decide to participate in this joint day of action.

Of 106 GPs who took part in the online survey, more than 90% said they would be prepared to take some form of industrial action over proposed changes to the NHS Pension Scheme (NHSPS).

More than half (55%) said they would be prepared to work to rule, only carrying out work required by their contract. Two-fifths (42%) said they would be prepared to take full strike action and not attend their practice, and 40% would 'work without enthusiasm'.

Most (61%) said they would consider leaving the NHSPS if the proposals were introduced.

The government has said it has been continuing to negotiate with the BMA over changes to the NHSPS, but the BMA has grown frustrated at the lack of progress of these talks.

Last week, BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum bypassed Whitehall officials and wrote personally to chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander about the issue. 'The strength of feeling among doctors is abundantly clear and cannot be underestimated,' he said. 'The prospect of industrial action is something that they do not take lightly.'

However, doctors are too angry to allow the unfairness and scale of the changes to remain unacknowledged.'

GP and BMA pensions committee deputy chairman Dr David Bailey said that the lack of progress in negotiations with the government made it more likely the BMA would decide to ballot the profession. 'If there has been no movement from the government, you would expect it would make a decision to ballot more likely,' he said.

If the BMA decides on 25 February to ballot members, Dr Bailey said it could happen in a relatively short space of time. 'We're talking weeks rather than months,' he said.

GPC member and Medical Practitioners' Union president Dr Ron Singer said that GPs probably chose the 'work to rule' option because it would send a message to the government without affecting patient care.

'I can understand completely why GPs would tick it, they want to do the minimum they can, in order to avoid affecting patient care,' he said. In reality, such action would make little difference to the day-to-day work of GPs because their contract is not timeor task-limited, he said.

Family Doctor Association chairman Dr Peter Swinyard said 'working to rule' could mean a slight reduction in services or not offering additional services to patients such as non-vital blood tests.

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