The British Medical Association has defended its decision to take industrial action in an open letter printed in several national newspapers.
In an advert in the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, the letter, signed by Dr Hamish Meldrum, the chairman of the BMA Council, tells patients that the decision to take action was not 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 states.
The letter attempts to reassure patients that the action will not impact on patient safety but that the move is ‘vital’ in order to ‘address the unfair treatment of the NHS pension scheme’.
Doctors have felt it necessary to defend their action following a backlash from many quarters.
Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has said the public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA’s decision and has described the NHS pension as ‘one of the best available anywhere’.
“Every doctor within 10 years of retirement will receive the pension they expected, when they expected. Today’s newly qualified doctor who works to 65 will get the same pension as the average consultant retiring today would receive at 60 – the BMA have already accepted a pension age of 65. If doctors choose to work to 68 then they could expect to receive a larger pension of £68,000,” he said.
Roswyn Hakesley-Brown, chair of the Patient Association has expressed concern about the impact of the strike – saying it would not be welcome by patients ‘waiting in pain’ for a hip or knee replacement.
And Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers Organisation said he was ‘deeply disappointed’ with the announcement.
But Dr Meldrum and colleagues explained that they felt had no choice but to take a the 24-hour day of action on June 21 – a move supported by the majority of doctors.
"Despite agreeing to major reforms in 2008, that made the NHS pension scheme fair and sustainable, 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, for their pensions,” the open letter stated.
"These contributions are up to twice as much as those of civil servants on the same pay, for the same pension.
"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."