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Doctors vote against Government's reforms for NHS pensions

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Doctors and medical students have “overwhelmingly” voted to reject proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme.

A UK-wide British Medical Association survey showed that eight out of 10 members thought the proposals were unacceptable, and almost two thirds were personally willing to take industrial action against them.

Currently doctors pay 6.5%, 7.5% or 8.5% into their pensions depending on what they earn. Under the Government's proposals those contributions will start to increase from April 2012 such that, by April 2014 individuals who are currently paying 8.5% will have to pay 14.5%.

Existing methods of pension accrual are to be replaced by a career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme for all doctors (including hospital doctors who currently have a final salary pension scheme) to come into force on 1 April 2015. The BMA Council has written to the Government, rejecting the offer and urging it to reconsider its pension plans based on the results.

Council will hold an emergency meeting on 25 February to examine options on balloting for industrial action should ministers not listen.

BMA Council chairman Hamish Meldrum, said: "The strength and scale of feeling among doctors are abundantly clear. They feel let down and betrayed, and for many this is the final straw.

"Doctors are at the forefront of attempts to save the NHS £20 billion while trying to protect patient care, are in the midst of huge system reform in England, which is causing chaos in many areas, and are about to enter a fourth successive year of a pay freeze.

"Now on top of this, they are facing wholesale changes to their pension scheme, which was radically overhauled less than four years ago and is actually delivering a positive cash flow to the Treasury."

Meldrum said there were particular concerns about forcing doctors to practise medicine to almost 70 years of age, and the pressure this would put on them to work beyond an age at which they felt competent and safe. The BMA received 46,300 responses to its online and postal questionnaire on the Government's offer. More than a third of doctors (36%) aged 50 or over said they would bring forward their retirement age, were the changes to go ahead.

Meldrum added: 'Industrial action remains a last resort, and the government must urgently reconsider its damaging plans. The action we are considering is unprecedented in recent decades. This demonstrates the current level of discontent among NHS staff."

The Unite trade union, which represents more than 100,000 NHS workers, has already rejected the deal, and the Royal College of Nursing announced last week that it would be surveying its members at the end of this month. Unison is still talking to NHS Employers, but has pledged to consult its members. Its ballot in favour of industrial action remains live, which means further strikes could be an option if the deal were rejected.

The BMA digital tool Pension Tension demonstrates the impact of the government reforms, and has had more than 30,000 hits since its launch last week. Doctors and medical students can still find out the impact of the reforms on their pensions and share the results on Twitter and Facebook by visiting the Pension Tension site.

Dean Royles, director of the NHS Employers organisation, said: "Talks are the best way to secure a final deal. The NHS scheme talks are complex involving over a dozen unions so it's therefore welcome that, along with a number of other unions, the BMA will continue the discussions.

"It is essential that everyone now hammers out an agreement. Let's concentrate on securing the best sustainable deal, not on industrial action which will always be damaging to patient care."