Health service unions are meeting today to plan their first ever NHS-wide strike due to a widespread belief that negotiations with the coalition government over pensions will fail by the autumn.

Unions representing workers at all levels of the health service are keen to start contingency planning at an early stage in order to ensure that industrial action does not compromise patient safety. If current talks are unsuccessful, the first walk-outs are expected to take place by Christmas.
One official told the Guardian that the prospect of failure felt “almost inevitable”, claiming that ministers had refused to budge on the fundamental issues of increasing members’ contributions and delaying the retirement age.
Unison, which represents 460,000 NHS workers, is hosting the meeting in London, which will also be attended by the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Dental Association, Unite and the GMB.
The written agenda includes room for discussion over “possible future industrial action”, which includes the nature of potential strikes, legal issues and the provision of emergency cover.
Christina McAnea, Unison’s national secretary for health, said: “There has never been full-scale industrial action in the health service. This is the first time all the groups have come together to talk about it. Industrial action in the NHS could be massive.”
The aim was to have things in place early to ensure “we can cover everything and ensure we minimise problems for patients”. But she added: “It almost feels this is inevitable.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman warned against making premature assumptions, however, and said that, even after proposed changes to NHS pension arrangements, the scheme would still remain one of the best on offer.
“The status quo is not sustainable with people living much longer, substantially increasing the cost to the taxpayer. Constructive talks on pensions are still on-going. It would be very wrong to make assumptions about their outcome,” she said.
While the first week in November is being mooted for industrial action by some civil service and teaching unions, it is unlikely that an NHS-wide strike would take place at the same time. No health unions have so far balloted their members for action and, unless government negotiations collapse ahead of their end of October deadline, they appear unlikely to do so.