PATIENTS in Sunderland are today missing out on appointments as doctors take industrial action over changes to their pensions.
GPs at surgeries across the city say they are providing urgent and emergency care only.
The British Medical Association (BMA) says its members have reluctantly decided to take the action, in response to being asked to work until they reach the age of 68 as well as pay more in contributions.
Dr Roger Ford, secretary of Sunderland Local Medical Committee which represents GPs in the city, argued that the action is not a strike.
He said he and his colleagues would be working normal patterns but with the intention of staying within the spirit of their terms of service and contracts.
Dr Ford said: “As recently as four years ago, the doctors’ pension contributions and future rights were renegotiated at some considerable loss to us, with increased contributions and an increase in retirement age.
“The Government has now reneged on that agreement, despite the NHS Pension scheme being in positive balance of approximately £2billion per annum.
“These extra contributions, paid by all NHS workers not just doctors, can be viewed as a form of indirect taxation, as it goes to the Treasury, not into the Pension scheme for the benefit of those members.
“This is blatantly unfair to all NHS staff, including nurses, physiotherapists, porters, etc.”
Dr Ford, a Monkwearmouth GP, added: “This is the first form of industrial action taken by doctors in over a generation – that is nearly 40 years.
“The degree of anger and disillusionment in the profession is therefore easy to gauge.”
Conservative leader on Sunderland City Council, Coun Robert Oliver, slammed the decision by doctors to take action.
Coun Oliver said: “Given that doctors who join the reformed pension scheme will be able to retire on a yearly pension of £68,000, more than three times the North East average income, it is hard to see how strike action can be justified.
“Only a minority of BMA members have backed the action which will have a detrimental effect on their patients who are paying for the NHS as well as contributing to GPs’ pensions and salaries.”
NHS South of Tyne and Wear say that some patients’ appointments will be cancelled but they are hoping that they can limit disruption.
A spokesman for the organisation, which works on behalf of Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust (PCT), said: “We are taking appropriate steps to ensure there is minimal disruption to patients and that services are safe during the day of BMA action.
“Patients can be reassured that all urgent and emergency care services will be running as usual, however we do anticipate that some non-urgent cases and outpatient clinics may be postponed.
“Local NHS organisations, hospitals and GP practices, will be in touch directly with patients in advance of June 21 if their care is likely to be affected.
“Patients do not need to do anything now and should turn up for appointments as usual unless they have been contacted and told otherwise.”
l Have you been affected by the action? Contact health reporter David Allison, tel. 501 7137 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.