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BMA ballots doctors on industrial action over pensions, but strikes are out of the question

The British Medical Association has become the latest public sector organisation to ballot members for industrial action short of striking on the Government's NHS Pension Scheme proposal.

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 said on Saturday.

Strike action has ruled out as part of a commitment to ensure whatever action is taken does not cause harm to patients. The emergency meeting of BMA Council - the association's governing body - agreed 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% wanted the overnment's offer on further major changes to the NHS pension scheme to be rejected. Chairman of BMA Council 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.

"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."

Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation added: "I understand the anxiety of staff about changes to pensions. But this announcement will be disconcerting for patients and disappointing to the majority staff who recognise the importance of the essential services they provide and the impact industrial action will have on patient care.

"The government will soon release full, final details of the pension proposals and it is essential that staff have time to consider the proposals, the costs and benefits and the implications of rejection.

"This is a critical time for staff and it is very important that they wait until the government has released full, final details of the pension proposal before voting in ballots. It is vital that they make fully-informed decisions and we ask that all parties concentrate on helping staff understand the changes.

"Employers will do they all they can to ensure staff have access to balanced, accurate information and, in the event of industrial action, will urge trade unions not to take action that damages patient care. Patients will always be our first priority."