DOCTORS at about a quarter of Wearside practices took part in industrial action over a pensions dispute.
Appointments were missed as GPs at 13 out of 54 surgeries chose only to tend to urgent and emergency cases yesterday.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) feel they were left with no alternative but to take industrial action – the first in the profession for nearly 40 years – saying that the Government had gone back on promises they made over pensions in 2008.
Changes soon to be implemented will see doctors work until they are 68, and contribute more pay towards their pensions.
The BMA is calling on the Government to reverse the proposals.
More than half of the BMA’s 100,000 members took part in the ballot, with about 80 per cent voting in favour of taking action.
But Health Secretary Andrew Lansley labelled the doctors’ actions as “pointless”.
Despite the action going ahead, A&E units and maternity departments in Sunderland remained open.
GP George Rae, who is chairman of the North East branch of the BMA, said a clear message had been sent to Mr Lansley that doctors are deeply unhappy at the proposals.
Dr Rae said: “Andrew Lansley has been pretty vitriolic about this, saying we should not carry out the action.
“Will it bring the Government back to the negotiating table? I would doubt that just the one day (of action) will.
“I’ve had practices phoning me up saying that they have decided not to take industrial action but that they have been telling patients how they feel about the doctors’ pensions scheme.”
Dr Rae also defended accusations that the action was not widely supported.
“I think that to have about 25 per cent of doctors doing this in our area is quite significant,” he said.
“We will never get all of the doctors taking action and that’s a reflection of the caring aspect that doctors feel towards their patients.”
Dr Roger Ford, who is secretary of Sunderland Local Medical Committee, maintained that the action was not a strike.
The Monkwearmouth GP said: “Sunderland Local Medical Committee, which represents every GP in the Sunderland area, can not envisage a situation where our colleagues would ever go on ‘strike’.
“We enter the medical profession to care for patients, and we would never endanger our patients’ care nor compromise the high regard in which our profession is held.”
Dr Ford added: “We hope members of the public will draw their own conclusions and ignore the Government ‘spin’.”