Doctors will be balloted on industrial action short of a strike, after the government failed to return to meaningful talks on NHS pensions, the BMA announced on Saturday.
Strike action was ruled out as part of a unanimous commitment to ensuring that whatever action is taken does not cause harm to patients.
Saturday’s emergency meeting of the BMA Council, the association’s governing body, agreed urgently to draw up detailed plans on the timing of the ballot and the nature of any industrial action that would take place in the event of a ‘yes’ vote.
The BMA has been urging the government to resume talks after a survey of doctors and medical students in January showed that 84 per cent wanted the government’s offer on further major changes to the NHS pension scheme to be rejected.
Chairman of BMA Council Dr Hamish Meldrum said: ‘Doctors are not asking for special treatment, quite the opposite.
‘Just four years ago, NHS staff agreed to major reform of the NHS pension scheme to make it fair, affordable and sustainable. Now the government wants to go back on that deal.
‘The NHS pension scheme is in a strong financial position and the economic downturn does not affect that as staff have already accepted responsibility for covering any future cost increases.
‘The decision to ballot for the first time in 40 years has not been taken lightly. Doctors and medical students have overwhelmingly rejected the current offer, and we’ve pursued every avenue we possibly could to bring the government back to meaningful talks.
‘With no signs of movement, we simply cannot ignore this strength of feeling by medical staff. We therefore have no other option but to ballot on industrial action.
‘Taking industrial action remains a last resort and we urge the government to work with us, and the other health unions, to find a fairer way forward.
‘Should industrial action be necessary, the priority would be to limit disruption and prevent harm to patients. That is why we have completely ruled out strike action and are committed to reviewing the risks for patients at every stage.
‘The government’s proposals would have a significant impact on all doctors, but especially those embarking on their medical careers.’
Dr Meldrum added: ‘With increases in tuition fees, junior doctors will be starting their working lives with debts of up to £70,000. Now they are being told they must pay £200,000 more in pension contributions and work until they are at least 68.
‘The government’s action may also cause a big tranche of experienced doctors to leave the NHS – more than a third of doctors aged 50 and over say they intend to retire early if the changes go ahead.’