Lansley urges GPs not to take pensions industrial action 'harming' patients

Health secretary Andrew Lansley will try to persuade GPs not to take industrial action on 21 June, after he declared that the action would not reopen talks on reforms to the NHS pension scheme.

In a letter to BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum, Mr Lansley said there was ‘no chance’ of pension negotiations being reopened as a result of industrial action by GPs and other doctors.

He said he would seek to persuade BMA members ‘not to damage patient care by participating in the industrial action, not least by disabusing your members of some of the arguments your organisation has been making’.

Mr Lansley said that the BMA’s planned action on 21 June – providing emergency services only – will ‘at best inconvenience and at worst harm your patients’.

He went on to warn that action would ‘affect patients for many days and potentially weeks following 21 June’ with up to 30,000 operations cancelled, 58,000 diagnostic tests postponed and 200,000 outpatient appointments needing to be rescheduled.

Mr Lansley said that he had expressed his disappointment at the BMA's decision to take action in a phone conversation with Dr Meldrum.

‘First, because you fail to recognise that, under a reformed pension scheme, doctors will still receive pensions in excess of twice the annual average wage.

‘Secondly, because, given that you understand all the NHS entitlements must be funded from within a finite spending envelope, you are taking action from which other leading trade unions have refrained – and you are doing so in order that doctors would pay less in their pension contributions while nurses and other less well-paid NHS workers pay more,’ he said.  

BMA response
In an initial response to the letter, BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said the union had made it clear it would prefer not to take industrial action, but instead engage in ‘meaningful negotiations’ with the government.

Dr Meldrum said Mr Lansley had failed to address the 'feeling of betrayal felt by doctors'.

He said: 'NHS staff agreed major changes to their pension scheme through negotiation in 2008 to make it sustainable for the future.'

‘Only four years later the government has torn up this agreement. Currently, the scheme is delivering £2bn to the Treasury every year. This is why NHS staff feel so let down and why further changes are unnecessary.’

‘We are working closely with NHS managers to plan the day of action and to ensure any postponed appointments or operations are rearranged so that patients are given as much notice as possible. Patient safety will be our absolute priority. Doctors will be in their usual places of work and providing urgent and emergency care to all those who need it.

‘We will be considering the contents of the letter and will reply to the secretary of state shortly.’

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