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Strike! UK Doctors Take Day Off in Austerity Protest

Austerity attacks on pensions, retirement age

Common Dreams staff

Tens of thousands of British doctors have begun their first industrial action in nearly 40 years in a battle over pensions and increased retirement age.

Thousands of doctors in Britain's state-funded National Health Service took industrial action for the first time in 37 years on Thursday in a dispute over austerity-driven changes to their pensions, cancelling thousands of patients' non-emergency appointments and operations. Thousands more doctors in Northern Ireland joined their counterparts in England and also went on strike.

The British Government wants doctors to contribute much more to their pensions. It is also planning to raise the doctor's retirement age from 60 to 68.

Doctors say the government has reneged on a pension deal agreed in 2008. The British Medical Association, which represents 104,000 UK doctors, says doctors will have to pay 14.5 percent of their pay into the pension fund by 2014, compared with 8.5 percent in March 2012.

They also claim the new deal would leave retired doctors worse off.

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Agence France Presse reports:

Thousands of doctors took industrial action on Thursday for the first time in nearly 40 years, in a row over changes to their pensions as part of government austerity measures.

The British Medical Association (BMA) union said doctors were boycotting routine hospital appointments and non-emergency operations for 24 hours but emergency care was not affected.

The BMA said the government is reneging on a 2008 deal, and says plans to make doctors work until they are 68 years old and pay more towards their pensions are "totally unjustified".

"Nobody likes taking anything that will inconvenience patients and I know a lot of doctors who have taken this step very unwillingly," BMA chairman Hamish Meldrum said as the first doctors' strike since 1975 got under way. [...]

Health minister Andrew Lansley, whose government has introduced steep austerity measures in a bid to shrink its yawning deficit, said the strike could result in the cancellation of up to 30,000 operations.

Participation in the strike varied across Britain, with the BMA estimating that four out of five hospitals would have to cancel some procedures, while one in three family doctors were taking part.

With more than 100,000 members, the BMA represents around two thirds of Britain's doctors. Eight out of 10 voted to strike, on a turnout of 50 percent.

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