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BMA drops plans for further strike over pensions row — for now

But it will step up its campaign to halt move to extend retirement age

Caroline White

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The BMA has dropped its plans for further industrial action in the immediate future, and will instead join other health unions in talks with the government about the detail of the changes to the NHS pension scheme.

But it will step up campaigning to halt moves to extend the retirement age to 68.

The announcement follows yesterday’s meeting of the association’s governing body, BMA Council, which was convened  to agree next steps after the day of industrial action on 21 June, which was widely perceived as a flop, with only around one in 10 doctors taking part.

Since then, the government has written to health unions to begin talks to review the impact of working longer and consider the proposed increases to contributions.

While the first increases in pension contributions started in April, the increase in the retirement age and the ending of the final salary scheme will be introduced from 2015.

Council agreed that no further industrial action would be planned at this stage and that the BMA would take part in the talks.

At the NHS Confederation annual conference in Liverpool last month, health secretary Andrew Lansley expressed his fury at the doctors’ planned day of action in his conference address.

And he subsequently told a group of reporters that he had no intention of treating the BMA as a special case or holding talks without the other health unions.

Newly appointed chair of Council, Dr Mark Porter, defended last month’s day of action by doctors, saying that it had sent  “a strong and clear message to the government about how let down they felt.”

He added that independent research by Ipsos MORI shows that the public were more likely to support doctors in the dispute than the government, and that most of those surveyed were confident about doctors’ commitment to prioritise patient safety.

“Industrial action was never our preferred way forward. We would always far prefer to seek changes to the government’s plans for NHS pensions through negotiation and lobbying, rather than taking action that could jeopardise the much valued relationship with our patients,” he said.

He was at pains to point out that the BMA had not done a u-turn.

“We always said that we would review our action in order to determine next steps. Having done that, it is clear that only escalated action has any possibility of causing the government to rethink its whole programme of changes. The BMA and the profession as a whole are unwilling to do that at this point because of the impact on patients,” he said.

“We will not, therefore, plan any further action at this stage and will take part in the talks the government has offered on the detail of the pension changes,” he added.

But Council would step up its campaign against extending the retirement age to 68, and beyond, he said, particularly as other frontline staff in the public sector, such as the police, have lower retirement ages because of the nature of their work.

And he warned: “Doctors’ anger with the government for tearing up a pensions deal reached only four years ago and which made the scheme sustainable for the future will not just go away. We have not ruled out taking further industrial action in the future and we are committed to continuing to fight for a fairer deal in the longer term.”

Dean Royles, director of NHS Employers, welcomed the BMA’s decision to halt its strike plans.

"The NHS will breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no more industrial action for the moment,” he said, adding: "We understand that there is a great deal of concern around the pensions issue, but it is right that we move on and get patients out of the argument.”

He continued: “The suspension of possible industrial action will help us all to redouble our work, in partnership, on this challenging NHS pension agenda."

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