Doctors to vote on industrial action in protest at changes to pensions

BMA to stage first ballot of its kind for 40 years in an angry stand-off between the Government and the medical profession as the crunch day looms for David Cameron's flagship health service reforms

More than 100,000 doctors are to be balloted on industrial action as the stand-off between the Government and the medical profession escalates.

The British Medical Association will ask doctors whether to take action over changes to their pensions.

It is the first ballot of its kind for almost 40 years and is the latest stage in the souring relationship between the coalition and health workers. Options being considered short of strike action include a work-to-rule, a refusal to fill in forms and only dealing with emergencies.

David Cameron is already under fire for his planned NHS reforms, which have attracted fierce opposition from royal medical colleges, as well as coalition MPs and peers. This week the Health and Social Care Bill is expected to face a further drubbing in the Lords, as ministers battle to get the legislation on to the statue book.

Relations with doctors hit a new low yesterday, when the BMA announced the vote on industrial action. In January, doctors and medical students overwhelmingly rejected the Government's "final" offer on pensions, claiming younger doctors would have to pay more than £200,000 extra over their lifetime in pension contributions and work eight years longer, to 68.

Ministers argue that pensions enjoyed by doctors are among the most generous in the country, and say the lowest paid will be protected.

But doctors' leaders claim the changes go back on a deal struck with the government three years ago.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA Council, warned yesterday that the pension changes could trigger an exodus of experienced doctors from the NHS, and left the BMA with "no other option" but to ballot for industrial action.

"We've pursued every avenue we possibly could to bring the Government back to meaningful talks," he said. "With no signs of movement, we simply cannot ignore this strength of feeling by medical staff."

The pension changes affect England and Wales, but the Scottish government is to begin a similar process which the BMA believes is likely to produce the same result. Similar plans are expected in Northern Ireland. Last week, the union UCAC, which represents thousands of teachers, head teachers and lecturers in Wales, rejected pension changes and warned that further strikes could occur.

Under current rules, a full-time consultant retiring at 60 receives an annual pension of more than £48,000 and £143,000 tax-free lump sum. A doctor joining the new scheme after 2015 would face higher contributions but could expect a pension of £68,000 a year at his state pension age of 68.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, insisted it was fair that higher earners paid greater contributions. "Doctors and consultants are among the highest earners in the NHS and have benefited hugely from the current final salary scheme compared to other staff groups. Lower-earner members should not be footing the bill – that is why we have protected those on lower salaries."

The stand-off with doctors comes at a difficult time for Mr Lansley. Tomorrow, the Royal College of Physicians will hold an emergency meeting to consider balloting members over whether to support the Government's Health and Social Care Bill.

And the Bill returns to the Lords with the most controversial sections on competition in the NHS likely to be challenged. The Government is expected to make some concessions, with Lib Dem peers tabling a raft of amendments to limit the role of the private sector in the health service.

A government source said Wednesday was "crunch day", when Lib Dems will seek to cut out Competition Commission involvement in reviewing the NHS watchdog, Monitor, and exempt the NHS from EU competition law. Department of Health insiders have made clear that getting the Bill passed is the priority. "We'll do pretty much whatever it takes," said one.

The Lib Dems are demanding a "belt and braces" approach to plans allowing hospitals to earn up to 49 per cent of their income from private patients. Baroness Barker called for any foundation hospital which intends "to increase significantly its private income must have prior approval from its board of governors".

Last week the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health called for the Bill to be withdrawn, warning that it "carries risk for children".

GSK chief's accusation: Cancer drugs 'held back to save NHS money'

New cancer drugs are being held back from patients to allow the NHS to save money, the head of Britain's biggest pharmaceutical company claimed yesterday.

Sir Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, accused ministers of making false economies with "oncology drugs being systematically delayed from introduction".

He said governments across Europe had already cut drug prices by 5 per cent a year – costing GSK around £300m. "The bit I'm much more frightened about is that what's now beginning to become clear is that, in addition to price reductions, governments are delaying the approval of innovative new drugs," he told the BBC. "So a second way they can save money, they think, is 'Let's just not buy the next round of innovation'.

"If you are a minister and you need to cut costs, it is a lot easier to cut drug prices than to close a hospital or reduce the size of the Civil Service."

A Department of Health spokesman said spending on health has increased, which includes new drugs, and thousands more patients are getting access to the most advanced treatments.

Matt Chorley

peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions