Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was accused today of "repeatedly and blatantly" distorting the facts during his keynote address to the NHS Confederation conference on the eve of historic industrial action by GPs.
Mr Lansley used his speech in Manchester to attack the British Medical Association for its planned action today over changes to doctors' pensions.
The minister, who has faced repeated calls for his resignation over his controversial NHS reforms, called on doctors to "think again before going on a strike.
"Rather than engage, the BMA chooses to ignore the financial issues facing the NHS.
"We cannot prioritise doctors over other public-service workers when we have to tighten our belts," he said.
"The BMA is seeking a less fair deal for NHS staff overall, something which others might not understand.
"Pensions will have to be paid for many, many years after people stop paying a contribution. The total cost of the pension scheme is £83bn - around three-quarters comes from the taxpayer.
"It is not fair and it is not sustainable."
BMA council chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum condemned Mr Lansley's "repeated and blatantly misleading comments."
He said: "The facts are that the NHS scheme was extensively reformed in 2008 to make it sustainable for the future.
"As well as staff accepting increased contributions and a higher normal pension age, they also took on responsibility for future increases in costs due to improved life expectancy," he said.
"The NHS pension scheme does not work by building up a 'pension pot' - staff working now pay for the pensions of NHS staff who are retired.
"Doctors rightly pay more than lower-paid workers and we are not seeking to change that."
NHS Confederation head Mike Farrar used his conference address to urge the government to do more to ensure its reforms went through.
Mr Farrar said: "Despite huge efforts to maintain standards of patient care in the current financial year, health-care leaders are deeply concerned about the storm clouds that are gathering around the NHS.
"Frankly without action on the way we provide health and social care, the NHS looks like a supertanker heading for an iceberg.
"The danger is clearly in view and looming ever larger. We know what needs to happen. But are we going to be able to take the assertive action needed in time?
"It is clear that what the NHS desperately needs is public support for planned change to services."
But Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "The real damage being done to the NHS is being caused by the government's unrealistic efficiency savings and the Health and Social Care Act which will drive in private companies which will put profit before patients."
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