The newly elected leader of the British Medical Association is seeking urgent talks with the Government after doctors unanimously voted for further industrial action if pension negotiations are not re-opened.
Dr Mark Porter, an anaesthetist from Coventry, faces a tough start to his three-year tenure at the BMA amid concerns that more strikes could threaten public support for the profession. But the mood among doctors on the final day of the BMA’s annual general meeting in Bournemouth was grimly determined.
An emergency motion passed today included the possible withdrawal of doctors from new clinical commissioning groups, which could destabilise the Government’s controversial NHS reforms. However, it fell short of calling for a new date for strike action.
Dr Kevin O’Kane, an emergency medicine consultant, said: “Andrew Lansley is not content to milk the cash cow, he thinks he can slaughter the cow and carry on milking it, but it doesn’t work that way...doctors are not just going to lie there and let you keep kicking sand in our faces.”
But Dr Porter tonight said that a final decision on further action had been delayed until 18 July.
“We need to explore the potential for a further agreement...doctors are very angry at what’s happening with NHS pensions.
“We have always sought talks taking place on a fair and reasonable basis, and that’s what we want to do.”
The doctors also passed a motion calling for the resignation of Health Minister Andrew Lansley, declaring that he had misled the public and the profession, and could not be trusted to run the health service.
This vote of no confidence reflected the anger among many of the BMA doctors towards the coalition government’s controversial reorganisation of the NHS, and the perceived move toward privatisation.
But those speaking against it said it would make it impossible for the new chairman to negotiate with Mr Lansley.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham was quick to pounce, calling the vote a “crushing defeat” for Mr Lansley, though it reality it was a pretty close vote.
The doctors are aggrieved by what they feel is an unfair attack on their pensions deal, especially as a new deal was only struck in 2008. They argue that the NHS pension fund is healthy and sustainable with an annual £2bn surplus, but the government says this is a misleading as within a few years, there will be more money going out of the pot than being paid in.
The government insists the reforms are non-negotiable, because they are necessary for the long-term sustainability of public finances. Thousands of operations and non-urgent appointments were cancelled last week as doctors took their first industrial action in 40 years.
Outside the debating hall The Independent spoke to GPs, paediatrician's and anaesthetists who all said the mood at the conference reflected the feelings among most doctors across the UK.
“The government is mistaking doctors’ dedication and commitment to their patients for weakness,” said one paediatrician.
In his final speech as chair on Monday, Dr Hamish Meldrum urged the union to find a “sensible way out” of the dispute or risk losing the public’s trust.
Mr Lansley said: “Our proposals are fair to staff and to the taxpayer and mean that the NHS pension scheme will remain one of the best anywhere. But we cannot prioritise doctors over all the other health workers.”