Doctor’s strike: A bitter pill to swallow

In a decision very unpopular with the public and the media, the BMA has confirmed that for the first time in almost 40 years Doctors will take industrial action over the implementation of major changes to the NHS pension scheme. The first day of action will be today, following consideration of the results of ballot votes in which 50% of Doctors took part.

Hospitals are facing disruption as the strike action will see Doctors providing emergency care but non urgent appointments will be rearranged.

The strike, which has been widely condemned by politicians and the public, has come at a time when millions are unemployed and families are struggling to make ends meet. The perception of many is that some doctors are more concerned for their pockets than their patients.

A BMA press release stated the proposed changes to the previous ‘fair and sustainable’ NHS Scheme, which was agreed and negotiated in 2008 by the BMA, are considered by many doctors as an erosion too far on the current system.

The changes will see Doctors paying up to 14.5% of their salaries in pension contributions compared with 7.35% for senior civil servants to receive similar pensions and they will also have to work longer to receive their pension.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA said

“This is not a step that doctors have taken lightly.”

“This will be disruptive to the NHS” but “all urgent and emergency care will be provided”.

The Industrial Action is a controversial measure that has seen MP Dan Poulter resign from the BMA.

“This is going to damage the reputation of the medical profession and its going to hurt patients”

“In 2009-10, the average GP was earning £106,000 and, under the new scheme the government set up, the average doctor, on retirement, will receive a pension of £68,000.”

“It’s important that doctors pay their fair share along with everyone else”.

The strike has received some support, Ron Singer of the Guardian:

“Today’s industrial action over pensions – …is just. There is an inherent unfairness in working longer (to 68) with higher contributions for a smaller pension. But industrial action probably would not have been supported had doctors not felt frustrated and deeply worried by the undemocratic imposition of the Health and Social Care Act and the alarming implications for future patient care it might have”

Many doctors have also spoken out about the public perception of their earnings stating that the majority of doctors do not earn the inflated wages quoted in the papers. Junior doctors are set to lose out the most as they have high levels of student debt to repay and will be forced to work for longer to receive a lower pension than their seniors.

However the decision to strike remains unpopular with the media at large. The BMA wrote an open letter to several newspapers defending the action, which was badly received by the newspapers including the Independent’s headline which read:

“Doctor, doctor: why is my GP going on strike? Because a £53,000-a-year pension deal isn’t enough…”

It will remain to be seen how many doctors will actually exercise their right to strike. Doctors are reluctant to strike for a numbers of reasons aside from the bad publicity for the profession, doctors acknowledge patients will be the ones hit the hardest for this dispute with the government.

The media have suggested the strike is however part of a wider dispute with the government over health care reforms and the reform of the NHS pension scheme is the government’s way of punishing the profession for opposing the changes to the health reforms. But it could be just another step in cutting the deficit in the Country’s ongoing austerity measures.

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