Day of protest posed ‘difficult decisions’ for medics

A RETIRED Larne GP has defended the industrial action taken by doctors across the UK last Thursday (June 21).

For the first time in almost 40 years, thousands of doctors carried out a 24-hour protest against Government plans to increase pension contributions and the introduction of a later retirement age.

Non-urgent hospital outpatient appointments and surgeries were cancelled, as were routine GP appointments in practices where doctors participated in the protest.

While a majority of GPs across the country supported the British Medical Association call to action, some chose not to and arrangements varied from one practice to another. This was the situation in Larne, with some GPs operating as normal and others only dealing with emergency cases.

Former chairman of the British Medical Association in NI, Larne Councillor Brian Dunn, told the Times that doctors had been put in a “tough position” by the Government’s actions and faced “a difficult decision”.

He added: “I believe most doctors would have been reluctant to take part in the strike action, but would have felt that their backs were being pushed into a corner by the Government’s unwillingness to negotiate.

“On the other hand, some doctors would have agreed with the sentiment of the strike, but not have taken part because they didn’t want their patients to be impacted.

“The pension scheme that doctors negotiated with the Government four years ago was a fair one. New entrants to the scheme would have a normal pension age of 65. It really was one scheme for everyone, as those who were highest paid would offset the contributions of those who were lowest paid.

“This new scheme is particularly unfair to junior doctors, many of whom are coming out of university with student loans of about £75,000 or more,” he added.

The strike had a knock-on effect for patients, whose outpatient appointments or scheduled operations were postponed. However, anything that was deemed urgent, or life-threatening, was not affected by the strike. All new cancer referrals and cancer surgeries went ahead, as did emergency procedures such as heart surgery. Doctors still carried out maternity ward rounds, and all accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland remained open, as did out-of-hours surgeries.