The British Medical Association (BMA), which represents 130,000 doctors and medical students, said two-thirds of its members are in favour of action that would cripple hospitals and GP surgeries.

However, the ruling BMA council will not order an immediate ballot, instead sending a formal letter to the government rejecting its latest offer and demanding further negotiations.

But the BMA did say that it would “work up detailed plans on taking industrial action”. An emergency meeting is planned for February 25.

The dispute centres on plans that will result in doctors paying more contributions, and working longer and receiving less. The plans are in line with proposals for all public sector pensions.

The Telegraph newspaper quoted a government source as commenting: “It seems a bit rich for doctors to be complaining about cuts and patient care when they leave the NHS as millionaires.”

The paper also reported that over the past decade, the average consultant has seen their pay rise by 54 per cent.

The BMA has calculated that a doctor aged 25 today who becomes a consultant will pay more than £240,000 extra over a lifetime, and work eight years longer (from the current retirement age of 60 to 68), to receive an annual pension of £70,000. 

But a Department of Health spokesman countered: “Under the current scheme, a typical consultant retiring at 60 will receive a pension of £48,000 a year for life. In addition, they will receive a tax-free lump sum of around £143,000 – this equates to a pension pot of over £1.7m in the private sector. This is unsustainable.”

The last time NHS doctors went on strike was in the Seventies, over junior doctors’ working conditions.

Picture: Getty