The pension debate in Britain has extended to doctors, and their decision to go on a day of strike action has sparked criticism from the government.
Non-urgent care will be suspended on June 21, although emergency and maternity units will continue providing services as usual.
In a vote by the members of the British Medical Association, a large majority voted in favour of the strike over changes to their pension.
“We will be postponing non-urgent cases and although this will be disruptive to the NHS, rest assured, doctors will be there when our patients need us most and our action will not impact on your safety,” an open letter by the BMA published by three newspapers read.
This is the first industrial action by doctors since 1975 over what they have described as “the unfair treatment of the NHS pension scheme”. The association emphasises that the decision has not been taken lightly. The letter calls for fair treatment and not “preferential treatment from the Government”.
“Despite agreeing to major reforms in 2008, that made the NHS pension scheme fair and sustainable, doctors are now being asked to work much longer, up to 68 years of age, and to contribute much more of their salary, up to 14.5 per cent, for their pensions. These contributions are up to twice as much as those of civil servants on the same pay, for the same pension,” read the letter. The changes are set to take place in 2015.
Accident and emergency units will run as normal, as will maternity services. Tests for routine conditions in hospitals may be cancelled, but those with critical conditions, like cancer patients, will receive their treatments and get their tests. Non-urgent operations, such as hip replacements may be postponed. Although GP practices will be open, regular appointments will be cancelled.
The government has opposed the strike and said pension changes should happen across the board for everyone.
“People know that pension reform is needed as people live longer and to be fair in future for everyone,” said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley . “The public will not understand or sympathise with the BMA.”
The National Health Service (NHS) pension is “one of the best available anywhere” and will remain so, added Lansley. A new doctor joining the new pension scheme would get £68,000 annually, he said.
Keith Thomas, a 62-year-old company director, disagreed with the strike action because doctors “earn more money than other people,” he said.
The same was reflected in the views of a copyright agent. The 55-year-old woman who didn’t want to be named said doctors have a duty of care and the strike isn’t fair because “they are obviously advantaged with their current salaries and all the benefits.”
Doctors will put their patients in danger by striking, according to Garry Ayrton, a 36-year-old cleaner, who told me they “are supposed to be there for their patients”.
One woman, however, sympathised with the doctors, saying they are “greatly underrated” in this country. She insists it’s fair for them to go on a strike, because “they are going to lose their pensions or not get as much pension as they think they’re going to get.”
The mood on social media was quite varied. While some were against the action, others backed the decision by the BMA. One tweet read: “Anti doctor strike action people forget that doctors pay a great deal of income tax too, all their life. They don’t evade tax.”