30/05/2012 07:29 BST | Updated 20/06/2012 04:45 BST

Doctors Vote For Strike Action Over Pension Row

Doctors will take industrial action for the first time in almost 40 years on 21 June, the British Medical Association said on Wednesday.

In what is the latest development in a bitter row over the government's controversial pension reforms, routine outpatients appointments, elective operations, and some GP appointments will be postponed as part of the action. However emergency and urgent care will be provided.

Andrew Lansley said the public would not "understand or sympathise" with the action.

But the BMA has ruled out a complete withdrawal of labour, but if action now goes ahead, doctors would not undertake duties that could safely be postponed.

andrew lansley

Reacting to the strike ballot on BBC News, health secretary Andrew Lansley said what was on offer was "still an excellent scheme"

The BMA's head Dr Hamish Meldrum said in a press conference on Wednesday they had a clear mandate for the action and said the government had provided them with "no alternative."

"The BMA's planned action does not constitute a strike in the term normally understood by the public but the two questions were asked in order to provide maximum legal protection. Doctors will still be at their workplace on days of action," he said.

"This will be the first time since 1975 - almost 40 years - that doctors have taken industrial action."

"They will not undertake and will seek to postpone in advance any consultations or procedures that can be safely delayed."

He added: "It's not too late for the government to change its mind."

However the Patients Association warned that urgent and non-urgent cases were not simple, saying "further cancellations of operations will not be welcomed by those waiting in pain for a hip or knee replacement."

Ballots were held separately for GPs, consultants, junior doctors, staff associates and specialist doctors and occupational and community health doctors.

GPs voted by 13,837 to 3,687 to take action short of a strike and by 11,062 to 6,426 in favour of strikes.

The last time doctors took industrial action was in 1975, when consultants suspended goodwill activities and worked to contract over a contractual dispute, and junior doctors worked to a 40-hour week because of dissatisfaction with the progress of contract negotiations.

The BMA argues that higher paid NHS staff already pay proportionately more for their pensions than most other public sector workers, a disparity which it said increased in April when their contributions went up, and which is set to rise again.

By 2014, some doctors will see deductions of 14.5% from their pay for their pensions, compared with 7.35% for senior civil servants on similar salaries, to receive similar pensions, said the BMA.

Doctors currently at the start of their careers would be hardest hit, having to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds extra - double what they would have paid - in lifetime pensions contributions, according to the association.

Andrew Lansley said in a statement on Wednesday that doctors would be receiving the pensions they expected.

"People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone. We have been clear that the NHS pension scheme is, and will remain, 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."

Roswyn Hakesley-Brown, Chair of the Patients Association said they were concerned about the effect on patient care.

"Although we recognise that the BMA will target this strike at non urgent care, we have real concerns about the possible impact this will have on patients.

"The distinction between an urgent and a non urgent case may not be clear, and as a result time may be lost in cases where treatment is needed urgently. In addition, at a time when people are already waiting longer for elective surgical procedures, further cancellations of those operations will not be welcomed by those waiting in pain for a hip or knee replacement. I hope that a solution can be found before any strikes occur."

Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter MP said it was the "wrong decision."

"As a doctor, my first duty is to my patients. That is why I would not participate in strike action. Doctors have taken the wrong decision today, urged on by their trade union the BMA.

"Industrial action will harm patient care. With the government's final offer to doctors being a pension of £68,000 a year, the public will simply not understand why doctors have called for strike action over pensions that private sector workers and many other frontline NHS workers can only dream of. And they will be wondering how the Labour Party can support them."

His fellow Conservative MP, Dr Sarah Wollaston has said a strike would betray patients.