The BMA is to hold a consultative ballot of NHS consultants in England next month – in a move described as a ‘significant escalation’ towards industrial action.
The ballot will not be a legal ballot for industrial action, but will ask consultants whether they would be prepared to strike in future. The outcome will then be used to inform the BMA whether to proceed to a statutory ballot on industrial action, which would centre around cuts to consultants’ pay and the failure to address the pensions crisis.
It comes as the NHS is at severe risk of losing its most senior doctors as more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts and punitive pension tax rules leave consultants with little option but to reduce their hours or leave the NHS entirely.
With mounting waiting lists and ever-increasing demands on the NHS, the BMA said the health service cannot afford to lose doctors who are willing and able to work. Doctors leaders said urgent action is needed to prevent the haemorrhage of senior staff.
BMA figures show years of pay erosion have resulted in the average consultant in England facing a real-terms take-home pay cut of nearly 35% since 2008/09. Alongside escalation in the direction of industrial action, the BMA said the allegedly ‘independent’ pay-review process, which has overseen these cuts, has been constantly interfered with by government and must be reformed so it can deliver fair pay for doctors.
Thousands of doctors have already reduced their hours or left the NHS after they have incurred large, additional tax bills on their pensions by exceeding the annual or lifetime allowances.
The Parliamentary health and social care committee has described the pension tax crisis driving doctors out of the NHS a ‘national scandal’ contributing to ‘the greatest workforce crisis in its history’, yet despite the BMA outlining the necessary solutions, the Government has taken little action.
In the face of this inaction, doctors leaders believe the country is ‘walking blindly’ into one of the biggest staffing crisis the NHS has ever seen – and the association has no choice but to consult its members in England to determine their views on whether they would be prepared to take industrial action.
Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: ‘Despite repeatedly outlining our concerns to Government, ministers have been unwilling to act. The NHS is on its knees, patients are suffering and staff morale has never been lower.
Senior doctors are cutting their hours or leaving the NHS in their droves, driven out of jobs they love by unfair pension tax rules and brutal cuts to their pay. This is having a catastrophic impact on the country’s health as waiting lists for treatment spiral out of control and patients struggle to get the care they need.
‘Unless there is action by Government to address consultants’ concerns, waiting lists will simply continue to hit new record highs and staff shortages will only worsen as more senior doctors leave the NHS. The only way out of this crisis is to fix pay, fix pensions and fix the pay review body.
'Consultants would not take industrial action lightly. But in the absence of meaningful solutions from government, we’ve been left with no option but to consult our members’ views on whether they wish for us to hold a formal ballot for industrial action.’