Doctors urged by Labour leadership to call off strike

Shadow Health Secretary calls for rethink amid concerns over patient safety

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Doctors were urged by the Labour leadership today to abandon this month’s strike because of the harm that industrial action could have on the seriously-ill.

Andy Burnham, the shadow Health Secretary, called for a rethink over the walk-out planned for June 21, adding that doctors should find other ways of registering their anger over changes to their pensions.

Non-urgent operations and routine GP and hospital appointments will be cancelled when British Medical Association (BMA) members stage their first strike for almost 40 years in protest against the pensions shake-up.

Doctors – who backed the move by more than two to one – and health service chiefs have insisted emergency treatment will not be affected by the action.

But Mr Burnham said it was it was "incredibly hard" to draw their line between urgent and non-urgent cases.

"I don’t see how it is possible to take industrial action that doesn’t have implications for patient care and patient safety," he said.

"I understand the strength of feeling and I think [the vote] was a proxy for dissatisfaction on a number of levels. There should be other routes to communicate that strength of feeling."

Mr Burnham said he believed profession should only walk out in "pretty extreme circumstances".

He said: "Doctors striking is a pretty difficult thing to countenance when the impact on patient care could put patients at risk."

He was echoing Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, who has said the public would not "understand or sympathise" with the industrial action.

The BMA said today its decision to strike had not been "taken lightly", but the action was necessary "in order that our voice is heard by the government".

Doctors are angry their retirement age will be raised from 65 to 68 and their pension contributions will also increase under the Government’s plans.

Dan Poulter, who has worked as a part-time hospital doctor since becoming a Tory MP, said today he had resigned from the BMA. He said:

"This is going to damage the reputation of the medical profession and it's going to hurt patients."

Meanwhile, the King’s Fund said today that the number of patients facing lengthy waits in accident and emergency departments has reached its highest level since 2004.

A report by the health charity said 4.2 per cent of patients spent more than four hours in A&E before being discharged or admitted from January to March, compared with 3.4 per cent in the same period last year.

The Government's national target that no more than 5 per cent of patients face more than a four-hour wait in A&E was met last year, the King’s Fund said.

But it expressed worries that 48 NHS providers breached the threshold in the final quarter of last year compared with 18 in the second quarter.

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