Published: 20/06/2012 11:00 - Updated: 20/06/2012 12:30

Health chief assures patients over emergency cover

Written byby Alan Shields

Assurance on emergency cover
Assurance on emergency cover

PATIENTS in Caithness have been assured there will be no disruption to emergency medical services tomorrow as doctors prepare to strike for the first time since 1975.

Non-urgent healthcare, however, will be affected as a result of the industrial action which follows a pensions row.

NHS Highland has cancelled most non-urgent activity scheduled for tomorrow including outpatient clinics, day surgery and elective surgery.

Its chief executive, Elaine Mead, said safety is the top priority.

"While we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action we would like to reassure patients and the wider public that we have robust business continuity plans and there will be no disruption to emergency services and safe care," she said.

"We are close to confirming the exact level of non-urgent and elective services that we will be able to safely provide.

"We will contact any patients directly if their routine appointment or planned admission on June 21 has to be postponed."

NHS Highland confirmed all emergency services and core clinical services will continue as normal including cancer treatments, renal dialysis, emergency mental health and maternity services.

Four local GP surgeries and Wick’s Town and County Hospital are to be affected by the industrial action.

The Pearson and Riverview practices in Wick along with Dunbeath Health Centre and the Canisbay practice will all close to routine appointments. However, all GP surgeries across Caithness will be responding to emergency appointments.

All the GP surgeries in Thurso, Halkirk and Castletown are operating as normal.

Lybster Medical Centre was unable to comment on its situation when contacted by the Caithness Courier.

Arrangements for routine care and appointments will vary between practices and NHS Highland is encouraging patients to find these out.

No-one from Caithness General Hospital or Dunbar Hospital was able to tell the Courier how they will be affected.

The strike follows major reforms in 2008 which aimed to make the NHS pension scheme fair and sustainable.

However, the British Medical Association claims doctors are now being asked to work longer – up to 68 hours a week in some cases – and to contribute much more of their salary into the scheme.

Some of these contributions are up to twice as much as those of civil servants at the same level of seniority and pay, for the same pension. Highland BMA member Dr Alistair Todd said the dispute is not with patients or NHS Highland but with the Government.

"We voted overwhelmingly to avoid risk of any harm to patients," he said.

"On the day of action, patients can be assured that doctors in hospitals and general practice will be in their usual workplaces but will be providing urgent and emergency care only."

He added: "Doctors did not take the decision to take industrial action lightly, but we hope the public will understand that we feel we need to take some collective efforts to persuade the Government to return to negotiation."

Wick-based Dr Ewen Pearson is just one of a number in the county who will not be taking routine appointments following the dispute.

Dr Pearson is following the advice of the BMA as 84 per cent of doctors voted to support industrial action.

"We are being asked to work for longer – until age 68 – to pay more into the pension funds and will get a smaller pension in return," he told the Courier.

"Under the new proposals I will be paying 11 per cent – MPs pay seven per cent, judges pay only two per cent [annually]. Doctors just want a fair and equitable system. Would you really want a 68-year-old surgeon operating on you in the middle of the night?"

If patients have any concerns they are asked to contact NHS Highland using the telephone number on their appointment letter.

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