By Matthew Barrett
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Today's announcement that the doctors will strike for the first time in 40 years has, understandably, caused a brouhaha. The British Medical Association balloted doctors, and found 79% of GPs, 84% of hospital consultants and 92% of junior doctors who responded, voted in favour of a one-day strike on 21st June. To offer some fairness to the BMA, turnout in the ballot was apparently 51%, so the usual low-turnout union vote charges cannot be made, and they had the good sense not to have their emergency doctors go on strike. However, the NHS will clearly be horribly affected.
It's worth taking a look at why the BMA has seen fit to go on strike. At present, the average consultant retiring at 60 will receive a pension of over £48,000 a year for life, and a tax free lump sum of around £143,000, which equates to a pension of nearly £2 million. Even under Andrew Lansley's new proposals, a doctor can expect a pension of over £53,000 at age 65, and will remain amongst the best-paid workers in the public sector.
Andrew Lansley's argument for reform is that new arrangements are necessary, because people live longer. Now, for example, a doctor retiring at 60 can expect 29 years of retirement. This means they will draw a pension for nearly as long as they worked for the NHS – 36 years. In contrast, a doctor retiring at 60 in 1984 could only expect to live for 20 years after retirement, yet 1984's doctor, and the doctor of today would have paid similar amounts into their pension, but the extra 9 years cost approximately £440,000 to the taxpayer.
Lansley told the BBC News channel earlier today:
"Frankly, from the BMA's point of view they just seem to be saying [to] their members 'you're going to be paying more.' Well yes, there is an increase in contributions, but it's still an excellent scheme. If a doctor works through their working life and arrives at a pension worth £68,000 a year that's a pension pot that if you're in the private sector, you have to go out and buy that, it would cost you nearly £1.5m."
Daniel Poulter, the MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and, importantly, a medical doctor, also offered an attack on the BMA's decision:
"As a doctor, my first duty is to my patients. That is why I would not participate in strike action. Doctors have taken the wrong decision today, urged on by their trade union the BMA. Industrial action will harm patient care. With the Government's final offer to doctors being a pension of £68,000 a year, the public will simply not understand why doctors have called for strike action over pensions that private sector workers and many other frontline NHS workers can only dream of. And they will be wondering how the Labour Party can support them."