Doctors' strike in Bristol: The facts
Doctors in Bristol are today beginning strike action in a UK-wide protest over pensions.
Last month British Medical Association (BMA) members voted in favour of industrial action, after the Government announced changes to their pensions.
Around 100,000 doctors nationally - members of the BMA - could in theory strike for 24 hours. It will be the first industrial action doctors have taken in almost 40 years.
Why are doctors so angry?
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Under proposed changes, doctors currently under the age of 50 would have to work to 68, and pay more for their pensions.
The Government is imposing a new deal that would see the best-paid doctors contributing 14.5% of their salary - up from 8.5%.
And in 2015 there will be a switch to a new career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme for all doctors. For hospital doctors, this means the end of the final salary scheme, resulting in around a 30 per cent reduction in value on a like-for-like basis.
The BMA maintains the Government’s proposals are unfair and unnecessary, as in 2008 there was a major reform of the scheme which “government, employers and health unions agreed made the scheme sustainable for the future”.
On its website, the BMA states: “We have continued to raise major concerns that radical changes are not necessary, as the 2008 reforms are still valid, and that we have not been allowed to be part of meaningful negotiations to reach a fair settlement”.
What will happen today?
Doctors taking part will be in their surgeries and hospitals as normal, but they will only see patients with urgent medical problems. A&E and maternity units will be operating normally.
If you have an appointment scheduled for today and have not been notified of any change, you should attend.
The BMA insists: “Rest assured, doctors will be in their usual workplaces and patient safety will remain a priority”. If care cannot be postponed safely, it will not be postponed at all, it maintains.
Some 2,000 doctors are members of the BMA in the Bristol area, and around half of them voted not to handle routine appointments and surgery on the day of action. Even if only those who voted took part, it would mean around 1,000 doctors treating emergency cases only.
Managers at Bristol's two hospital trusts have refused to reveal how many doctors had informed them they would be taking part in the action or say how many operations and consultations are being cancelled as a result.
GP Simon Bradley, of Concorde Medical Centre and chairman of the Avon Local Medical Committee, which represents doctors in the area, said more hospital doctors than GPs had voted for action.
"There was also a higher number of younger doctors than older doctors," he added. "This is understandable, as they will be the ones more affected by the changes."
University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust has set up a phone number – 0117 342 4000 – for patients to call with queries.
Tom Frewin, of the Clifton Village Practice, told The Post most people will not notice any difference.
Support for industrial action nationally was said to be waning last night. According to a survey by the Daily Telegraph, two thirds of GP surgeries expected to have all their doctors working today, and would be open for business as usual. The vast majority of hospitals said few or no operations would be cancelled, the poll suggests.
What is the Government’s opinion?
The Government maintains that under proposed changes doctors will still get a good pension.
The Department of Health calculates that doctors will retire on a pension of £68,000 a year - twice the national average salary. It says the pension is fair.
Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: "Even after these reforms, they will have the sort of pensions that many people working in private sector companies can only dream of.
"So I don't believe they should be on strike. I think reform is necessary because we are all living longer, and if we want to have an affordable pension system we need to make some changes."
Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We cannot prioritise doctors over every other public sector worker when they have one of the most generous pension schemes in the country and will continue to do so.
"We all wish there was more money to go round but there isn't, everyone is having to tighten their belts.”
Yesterday the Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for last-minute negotiations between doctors and the Government, and urged doctors to "step back" from the action.