MORE than 1,100 patients in the North East had their operation or hospital appointment cancelled due to the doctors’ industrial action over NHS pension changes, figures have revealed.
Health chiefs in the region have insisted that disruption to patients was “minimal” as it was “business as usual” for most services.
But last night the British Medical Association robustly defended the industrial action and said their figures showed 25% of GP surgeries in North and South of the Tyne took part.
For the first time in almost 40 years, members of the BMA took action yesterday in protest over the Government’s controversial changes to the NHS pension scheme. Doctors remained at their usual place of work, but all non-urgent work was postponed. Emergency and urgent cases were still dealt with.
Figures released by NHS North East show that 7.5% of non-urgent operations were cancelled and 8.8% of outpatient appointments were rescheduled.
For example, NHS South of Tyne and Wear rescheduled 52 non-urgent operations and 293 outpatient appointments, and NHS North of Tyne rescheduled 48 non-urgent operations and 144 outpatient appointments.
Meanwhile, NHS County Durham and Darlington rescheduled 18 non-urgent operations and 144 outpatient appointments.
NHS North East said 85% of GP practices in the region provided a normal, or near to normal service.
On average, there are around 11,000 outpatient appointments and 1,800 planned operations every day across the North East NHS. Phil Bain, head of emergency preparedness and resilience at NHS North East said: “All North East NHS organisations have made every effort to minimise disruption for patients during the industrial action.
“Every effort is being made to ensure that those patients whose care has been affected, have their appointments rescheduled at the earliest possible opportunity.”
Just 8% of doctors working in the NHS in England participated in the industrial action, the Department of Health last night claimed.
Around 11,500 doctors took part, but a quarter of GP practices were affected by the action, with about 2,000 surgeries having at least one member of staff taking part.
Dr George Rae, chairman of the North East BMA, said: “The industrial action was taken very reluctantly and only after trying every other avenue to bring the Government back to the table.
“We are not expecting the public to have supported the action, but we hope that they can understand the reasons the profession has been driven to this point.”
Under the Government’s pension changes, a doctor currently contributing 8.5% of salary would contribute 10.9% this year, and possibly as much as 14.5% by 2014.
It could mean doctors paying up to £200,000 more over the course of their careers for what GPs feel is a worse deal on retirement. Many doctors would have to work until they are 68 before being able to draw a full pension.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “In the run-up to these strikes our objective has been to minimise disruption for patients.
“We asked doctors to recognise that their quarrel was not with patients but with the Government.”