The first ballot of NHS doctors on industrial action since 1975 opens today – over the government’s reforms to the NHS pension.
Government plans would mean NHS staff working longer and contributing as much as 14.5% of their pay for their pensions – almost twice as much as some other public sector workers on similar pay, for similar pensions.
The union will be balloting eligible members on industrial action over the changes to the NHS Pension Scheme between 14 and 29 May.
The BMA claims changes are being imposed without genuine negotiation, and despite the fact that the NHS pension scheme underwent a major overhaul only four years ago.
In 2008, NHS staff agreed to a higher normal pension age and higher contributions as part of an agreement to make the scheme affordable and sustainable in the long term – it currently delivers a positive cash flow to the Treasury of £2.5 billion a year.
The BMA is balloting doctors on industrial action – in a form aimed at assuring patient safety – for the first time in 37 years. Ballot packs are being posted out to 103,000 doctors across the UK today.
It is asking doctors to take action which would:
– not be strike action as the term is normally understood by the public, as it would not involve a full withdrawal of labour;
– ensure all emergency care, or other care urgently needed by patients, would be provided involve doctors being in their usual places of work, if scheduled to be in on the day of action;
– take place for a 24-hour period initially (with its impact – particularly on patients – assessed before any further action was taken).
Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of BMA council, said: “This is not where we set out to be – industrial action is only ever a last resort. However, the government’s refusal to rethink its unnecessary reforms to a pension scheme that is already affordable and sustainable has left us with no alternative. We are not talking about a full withdrawal of labour. All emergency and urgent care would be provided, and doctors would still be at their usual places of work.”
Read a discussion of the issues.
How the pension changes affect doctors:
England and Wales:
1. The contribution taken from your pay for your pension increased last month (April 2012). Contributions will go up again in 2013 and 2014, with, under current proposals, the highest earners contributing 14.5% of pay by 2014.
2. In 2015, there will be a switch to a new career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme for all doctors. For hospital doctors, this means the end of the final salary scheme, resulting in around a 30% reduction in value on a like-for-like basis.
3. In 2015, the normal pension age will be linked to, and will increase in line with, the state pension age, with many NHS staff having to work to the age of 68 to be able to draw a full pension. The state pension age may well rise beyond this in future.
Scotland and Northern Ireland:
1. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the contribution from your pay for your pension increased from April 2012, as in England and Wales. Negotiations on the extent of further changes are ongoing in Scotland.
2. The BMA says it is clear that further changes will be made to the NHS pension schemes for Scotland and Northern Ireland but the expectation is that they will follow the same pattern as those in England and Wales.