Doctors suspend strike over pension reforms

Doctors have suspended plans to take more industrial action over the government’s pension reforms, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.

The BMA’s council, which met in Edinburgh, said further industrial action has not been ruled out but that doctors would prefer to seek change through negotiation rather than more action.

Last month doctors took action for the first time in almost four decades by boycotting non-urgent care.

The BMA announced the move after it accused ministers of pressing ahead with “totally unjustified” increases in pension contributions and a later retirement age for doctors. Yet the council also agreed to “step up” campaigning, particularly over the increase in retirement age to 68.

A spokesman said: “Since the BMA’s action on 21 June, the government has written to health unions to begin talks to review the impact of working longer and consider the proposed increases to contributions in years two and three and how tiered contributions relate to these.

“While the first increases in contributions were made in April 2012, the other major changes – increasing the retirement age to 68 and ending the final salary scheme – will be introduced starting from 2015.”

Council chairman Dr Mark Porter said: “Last month’s action enabled thousands of doctors to send a strong and clear message to government about how let down they felt, while also honouring their commitment to protect 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.

“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. But … 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.”

The action on 21 June left thousands of patients unable to have a planned operation, or see their specialist or GP.

Figures show that a fifth of GP practices were affected. Across the country, 2,703 operations were postponed and 18,717 outpatient appointments rescheduled.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We welcome the BMA’s decision to suspend further industrial action.

“Our aim has always been to achieve a pension that is fair to staff and to the taxpayer and will mean that the NHS pension scheme will remain one of the best available.”

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