INDUSTRIAL action will not risk patient safety, says Dr Lewis Morrison, a geriatrician at Roodlands Hospital in Haddington.
On Thursday, June 21, doctors across Scotland will be taking industrial action for the first time in almost 40 years.
The last time doctors took industrial action it was 1975 and I was in my first year at primary school. Thirty-seven years later, Jaws is back on in the cinema, and two generations of doctors have never known industrial action.
No government during this time has pushed doctors this far. It was with a heavy heart that I voted for industrial action, but like many doctors, I felt enough was finally enough.
Government needs to see sense and return to meaningful talks. If today it firmly agreed to do that, the industrial action would be called off. But so far it has not listened. Without such a commitment to proper negotiations, rather than imposition, there is now no choice but to go ahead with the action.
It is important to explain why we are doing this and the impact it may have on your experience of the NHS on the day itself.
Our dispute is essentially about the Government going back on a deal negotiated in good faith only four years ago. At that time, NHS staff agreed major changes to their pension scheme to make it sustainable for the future.
We agreed a tiered contribution scheme so that higher earners contributed more to protect lower-paid workers. It also meant an increase in pension age for new entrants, and staff – not taxpayers – taking on sole responsibility for any further increases needed to cover increases in costs, such as those created by people living longer.
Now the government wants to tear up that deal.
Doctors believe that the changes are unnecessary and unfair. The NHS Pension Scheme is not a drain on taxpayers. It currently delivers a surplus of £2 billion to the Treasury each year.
On the day of action, patients can be assured that doctors in hospitals and general practice will be in their usual workplaces but providing urgent and emergency care only.
This means that many non-urgent cases will be postponed. Although this will be disruptive to the NHS and to some of you, we will be there when patients need us most and the action will not impact at all on patient safety.
In developing our plans, patient safety remains the overriding priority on the day of action.
Doctors in hospitals will only undertake clinical work of an urgent or emergency nature. We have been working with managers locally to plan for the day of action and we will seek to postpone in advance any consultations or routine procedures that can safely be delayed.
Care which is not urgent – including many routine operations and appointments – is likely to be postponed to another day, but will not be cancelled altogether. If care cannot be postponed safely, it will not be postponed at all. For example, care will continue to be provided for all new cancer referrals and surgery, emergency department and labour ward attendances.
However, non-urgent hospital outpatient appointments, elective (non-urgent) surgery such as cataract removal or hernia repair, would be postponed. As part of our discussions with managers in NHS Lothian, we have encouraged them to advise patients as soon as possible if their appointments are postponed.
General practice surgeries where doctors are taking part in the industrial action will notify patients directly about their plans for the day of action. Practices will remain open and fully staffed for urgent patients, so they can see patients in need of attention that day. However, there will not be any routine, non-urgent appointments available. These arrangements will be advertised by the practice to patients in advance.
You do not need to do anything. I would like to reassure you that local doctors’ representatives will work closely with NHS managers to ensure that anyone who is affected is able to receive as much notice as possible and to have non-urgent appointments rearranged. Anyone who needs urgent care on the day will receive that care.
Doctors do not take the decision to take industrial action lightly, but we hope that patients will understand that our taking action is the only way that we can hope that the Government will listen to us.