U.K. doctors will stage their first strike since 1975 today in a dispute over pensions, with the government saying the action may lead to the cancellation of as many as 30,000 operations.
Doctors are angry that the government has renegotiated a 2008 agreement on their state-funded pensions and are fighting plans for them to retire at 68, in line with other workers. Doctors will still go to work today, though they will only provide emergency care.
“Doctors are now being asked to work even longer, up to 68 years of age, and contribute even more, meaning doctors have to pay up to twice as much as civil servants on the same pay for the same pension,” Hamish Meldrum, the chairman of the council of the British Medical Association, the doctors’ labor union, said in an e-mailed statement. “Doctors accept the need to play their part in improving public finances. We don’t expect better pensions or preferential treatment, just fair treatment.”
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, calling on the doctors to cancel the planned action, estimated 58,000 diagnostic tests would be postponed, 200,000 outpatient appointments rescheduled and as many as 1.25 million appointments with family doctors delayed.
The BMA says doctors’ pensions are properly funded and sustainable, in contrast to others in the public sector, and that a cap on employer pension contributions agreed on four years ago means taxpayers don’t have to shoulder any more of the cost of their retirement.
The current estimated cost of paying pension benefits to doctors totals 83 billion pounds ($53 billion). Of that, 67 billion pounds is likely to have to come from the taxpayer, Lansley says.
The government is also facing protests from other public- sector workers over moves to make them work longer and pay more into their pension plans. It’s been in conflict with health- service staff over plans for an overhaul of the way the National Health Service is managed, giving more control to family doctors, that was approved by Parliament earlier this year.
The opposition Labour Party urged the doctors to “step back” from the planned action. Health spokesman Andy Burnham said in an e-mailed statement that “patients shouldn’t be made to suffer.” The BMA said it will ensure patient safety is protected.
Doctors last withdrew their labor in 1975, when consultants worked to rule over a contractual dispute and junior doctors worked no more than 40 hours a week.
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