Doctors' strike in Staffordshire: The facts
Doctors in Staffordshire are today beginning strike action in a UK-wide protest over pensions.
Last month British Medical Association (BMA) members voted in favour of industrial action, after the Government announced changes to their pensions.
Around 100,000 doctors nationally - members of the BMA - could in theory strike for 24 hours. It will be the first industrial action doctors have taken in almost 40 years.
Why are doctors so angry?
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Under proposed changes, doctors currently under the age of 50 would have to work to 68, and pay more for their pensions.
The Government is imposing a new deal that would see the best-paid doctors contributing 14.5% of their salary - up from 8.5%.
And in 2015 there will be a switch to a new career average revalued earnings (CARE) scheme for all doctors. For hospital doctors, this means the end of the final salary scheme, resulting in around a 30 per cent reduction in value on a like-for-like basis.
The BMA maintains the Government’s proposals are unfair and unnecessary, as in 2008 there was a major reform of the scheme which “government, employers and health unions agreed made the scheme sustainable for the future”.
On its website, the BMA states: “We have continued to raise major concerns that radical changes are not necessary, as the 2008 reforms are still valid, and that we have not been allowed to be part of meaningful negotiations to reach a fair settlement”.
What will happen today?
Doctors taking part will be in their surgeries and hospitals as normal, but they will only see patients with urgent medical problems. A&E and maternity units will be operating normally.
If you have an appointment scheduled for today and have not been notified of any change, you should attend.
The BMA insists: “Rest assured, doctors will be in their usual workplaces and patient safety will remain a priority”. If care cannot be postponed safely, it will not be postponed at all, it maintains.
Hundreds of patients in Staffordshire have had their hospital appointments and operations cancelled.
The action has hit some outpatients' clinics and routine surgery at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.
The hospital told the Health Service Journal it is expecting to cancel three non-urgent operations and eight non-urgent outpatient appointments on Thursday.
People are being urged to stay away from the University Hospital's under-pressure accident unit unless they have suffered a life-threatening emergency.
Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust said nine clinics out of 44 have had to be rescheduled and patients have been informed. All other clinics will run as normal.
It remains unclear how many GPs will close their surgeries because most practices are independently run.
An extra doctor has been brought in and more are on standby to try to cope with an expected increase in patients at the five-doctor North Staffordshire Urgent Care (NSUC), in Basford.
Support for industrial action nationally was said to be waning last night. According to a survey by the Daily Telegraph, two thirds of GP surgeries expected to have all their doctors working today, and would be open for business as usual. The vast majority of hospitals said few or no operations would be cancelled, the poll suggests.
What is the Government’s opinion?
The Government maintains that under proposed changes doctors will still get a good pension.
The Department of Health calculates that doctors will retire on a pension of £68,000 a year - twice the national average salary. It says the pension is fair.
Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday: "Even after these reforms, they will have the sort of pensions that many people working in private sector companies can only dream of.
"So I don't believe they should be on strike. I think reform is necessary because we are all living longer, and if we want to have an affordable pension system we need to make some changes."
Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "We cannot prioritise doctors over every other public sector worker when they have one of the most generous pension schemes in the country and will continue to do so.
"We all wish there was more money to go round but there isn't, everyone is having to tighten their belts.”
Yesterday the Health Secretary Andy Burnham called for last-minute negotiations between doctors and the Government, and urged doctors to "step back" from the action.