United Kingdom doctors strike against changes to pension plan, 2012

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Time Period:  
14 May
19 July
Location and Goals
United Kingdom
Get the National Health Service to repeal/not pursue changes to their pension policy for doctors.

In 2012, the United Kingdom (UK) National Health Service (NHS)—the country’s public healthcare provider—proposed changes to healthcare policy in the UK. These changes would raise the retirement age for medical doctors from 60 years of age to 68 years of age, and increase fees on retirement funds above the normal level for public workers. The changes also made it easier for the NHS to subcontract care to private firms. Medical doctors in the public system, led by the British Medical Association (BMA)—their union—proposed a strike.

The BMA held a vote on 14 May. The union sent 103,000 ballots to as many doctors with two questions, asking if doctors were willing to take action other than a strike and if they were willing to take action including a strike. Sixteen days later, on 30 May, the BMA announced it would be taking soft-strike industrial action, postponing all non-emergency and non-urgent procedures on 21 June. According to third-party estimates, two-thirds of BMA doctors voted for the resolution.

Over the next three weeks, the press and public figures lambasted UK doctors and BMA leadership, with many painting the struggle as one between doctors’ greed and the safety of their patients. Repeatedly, UK Health Secretary Andrew Lansley warned doctors of what he saw to be potential consequences—risks to patients and nurses. The BMA assured the public that it was “taking industrial action reluctantly” and that "doctors will be in their usual workplaces and patient safety remains their top priority.” Certain local NHS chapters specified that “patient safety is paramount and urgent and emergency care [would] always be provided.” On 20 June, the day before the strike, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives signaled support, saying “we are advising our members to work as normal but not to undertake work that would undermine the action.”

BMA estimates state that 80% of UK hospitals called off at least some number of operations and appointments scheduled for 21 June 2012, affecting one in ten patients. Despite only 8% of NHS doctors participating, the strike canceled 45.5% more outpatient appointments than usual. A 2013 study showed that mortality rates decreased in the NHS on the day of the action. Nevertheless, the UK government showed no sign of changing course.

Officials remained relatively silent following the 21 June strike; however, Chairman of the BMA, Dr. Hamish Meldrum, resigned five days after the action on 26 June, warning against another strike. On 28 June, BMA doctors voted to strike again, this time calling for a bank holiday-style strike, treating only emergency cases. Organizers did not decide on a date for the strike but indicated it would occur in July. On 19 July, the BMA postponed any further strikes indefinitely. The union continued negotiations with the NHS, but the nonviolent direct action wing of the campaign effectively ended. The BMA called off two more strikes proposed for November 2012 and January 2013. As of 2019, no resolution had been reached.

Research Notes
Anon. 2012. "Docs defend day of action," Oxford Mail (England), June 15. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529180419/https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/9762952.docs-defend-day-of-action/).

Adams, Stephen. 2012. “NHS Could ‘run out of GPs’ over Pensions, Claims BMA.” The Telegraph, May 23. Retrieved May 29, 2019. https://web.archive.org/web/20190529180329/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9282698/NHS-could-run-out-of-GPs-over-pensions-claims-BMA.html).

Campbell, Denis. 2012a. "Doctors' strike over pensions hits hospitals and GP surgeries today," The Guardian, June 21. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529180229/https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/21/doctors-strike-pensions-hospitals-gp-surgeries).

Campbell, Denis. 2012b. "Outgoing doctors' leader cautions against more industrial action," Guardian Unlimited (England), June 25. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529195450/https://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/25/doctors-leader-cautions-industrial-action).

Chorley, Matt. 2012. "Andrew Lansley tells striking doctors to protect patients," The Independent: Web Edition Articles, June 3. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529180054/https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/andrew-lansley-tells-striking-doctors-to-protect-patients-7813553.html).

Hastings, Rob. 2012. "Doctors suspended strikes over pensions... for now," The Independent: Web Edition Articles (London, England), July 19. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529180007/https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/doctors-suspended-strikes-over-pensions-for-now-7957238.html).

Horton, Clare, Lizzi Easterbrook, and Jessica Fuhl. 2012. “Today in Healthcare: Wednesday 30 May.” The Guardian, May 30. Retrieved May 5, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529175838/https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2012/may/30/today-in-healthcare-30-may).

Pickover, Ella. 2012. "One in ten patients hit by doctors' action, Department of Health claim," Independent, The/The Independent on Sunday: Web Edition Articles (London, England), June 21. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529195409/https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/one-in-ten-patients-hit-by-doctors-action-department-of-health-claim-7872095.html).

Ruiz, Milagros, Alex Bottle, and Paul Aylin. 2013. “A Retrospective Study of the Impact of the Doctors’ Strike in England on 21 June 2012.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 106(9):362–69. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529175736/https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0141076813490685).

Smith, Rebecca. 2012. “Doctors Vote to Take Industrial Action: British Medical Association,” The Daily Telegraph (England), May 30. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529175517/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9299575/Doctors-vote-to-take-industrial-action-British-Medical-Association.html).

Smith, Rebecca. 2012. "Doctors' strike: Nurses and midwives will support strikers," The Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 19. Retrieved May 29, 2019. (https://web.archive.org/web/20190529175228/https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/9342215/Doctors-strike-Nurses-and-midwives-will-support-strikers.html).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Matt Koucky 29/05/2019