The BMA has requested an urgent meeting with Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in a further effort to re-start talks with the government over changes to the NHS pension scheme.
The BMA’s Council says it will meet on Saturday February 25 to consider the options for balloting on industrial action should there not be a significant change in the government’s position.
BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum (pictured), said: “We’re pursuing every avenue we can to get the government back to the table. Lines of communication are open, but we’d like to see more willingness to find a way towards a fair solution.
“Since the seventies, no dispute between the medical profession and the government has reached the point where a ballot on industrial action was necessary. The fact that doctors are seriously considering it now shows how unfair these proposals are.”
The BMA wants to see a fairer offer after 46,000 doctors and medical students responded to a survey last month, with 84% rejecting the government’s current plans which include raising the normal pension age for NHS staff.
Nearly two thirds said they would be prepared to take industrial action if the government does not improve its offer. At a recent meeting with the BMA, the Health Secretary welcomed the continuing dialogue, but indicated little flexibility in the Department of Health’s position.
In a letter to Mr Alexander, the BMA points out that the NHS pension is in a very different situation from other public sector schemes, having been radically overhauled less than four years ago: “It is in good financial health, and currently provides £2billion to the Treasury every year. In addition, the cost-sharing agreement reached at the time ensured that any increase in contributions needed in the future would be met by employees, not the taxpayer.”
The letter highlights the unfairness of NHS staff paying twice as much for the same pensions as some other public sector workers on similar salaries. It quotes the Public Accounts Committee’s warning that the government’s proposals “could destabilise the largest public sector pension scheme, increasing the burden on the state, and creating problems with retention of senior staff.”
A new BMA briefing paper setting on the NHS pension points out that the 2008 reforms increased the NHS pension age to 65, and resulted in steep contribution increases for doctors. Despite this, the government’s new proposals would mean a junior doctor currently at the start of their career now working to the age of 68 and paying over £200,000 in additional lifetime contributions.
Meanwhile, an e-petition calling on the government to resume talks with the health unions has received over 17,000 signatures in under a week.
Dr Meldrum, added: “The government would like the public to think that all public sector pensions are unsustainable and a drain on the taxpayer. This is definitely not the case for the NHS, where staff contributions have already risen sharply, and taxpayers are protected against future cost increases.
“NHS staff are being told that the deal they signed up to only four years ago is meaningless and they have to work until they are almost 70 before they can draw a full pension.”