The British Medical Association has said junior doctors will hold a three-day strike in March if a ballot, which begins across England on Monday 9 January, is successful.
The doctors’ union continues to urge Steve Barclay to negotiate a solution to avoid industrial action but said he is the first health secretary in more than 50 years to ignore invitations from the BMA to meet, making attempts to reach a negotiated settlement virtually impossible.
Successive governments have overseen 15 years of real terms pay cuts for junior doctors in England, which the BMA claims amount to a 26.1% decline in pay since 2008-09.
Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS” – BMA junior doctors committee
In a joint statement, Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The prime minister says his door and that of the health secretary, are ‘always open.’ But after more than a decade of pay cuts, no offer to restore our pay has been made, and all our calls to meet, and letters to the health secretary and his immediate predecessors, have been ignored. When we are faced with such resolute, ongoing silence, and there is no agreed settlement on the table, then we are left with no choice but to act.
Junior doctors strike
“Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago, nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own government.
“Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly. The government’s refusal to address 15 years of pay erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to ballot for industrial action. If the government won’t fight for our health service, then we will.”
Subject to a successful ballot, junior doctors in England will begin their action in March with a 72-hour full walkout. They will not provide emergency care during the strike; NHS trusts will need to arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety. The BMA said it was giving trusts and the government notice to prepare for the walkout, to help ensure patients whose appointments are cancelled know well in advance, and to help employers manage rotas to fulfil emergency care.
Trivedi and Laurenson continued: “It is particularly galling for junior doctors to see the government repeatedly justify huge real-terms pay cuts for NHS staff by claiming that these have been made by so-called ‘independent’ pay review bodies, free from government interference. The reality is that the doctors’ pay review body has been constrained by political interference for more than a decade.
“Even after recommendations have been made to increase junior doctors’ pay, the government has completely ignored them and has asked the pay review body to completely exclude junior doctors from its recommendations. When even the pay review process – broken as it is – is telling ministers to act, you know something has gone seriously wrong.”
The government excluded junior doctors in England – any hospital clinician with up to eight years’ fully-qualified service – from the pay award process this year because their contracts are subject to a multi-year pay deal which awards them a 2% increase for 2022/23.
The government cannot just sit back and let even more strikes happen when patient care is on the line” – Matthew Taylor, NHS Confederation
However, the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB) recommended that this award should be reviewed and a “betterment” clause in the previous agreement that allowed for exceptional circumstances to be considered (such as the pandemic and rising inflation). The DDRB noted that a decision not to apply an award to groups subject to a pay deal would have “a significant effect on motivation, affecting retention, productivity and ultimately patient care”, stating that the headline increase of 2% was “likely not sufficient” to address those issues.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Industrial action is already set to take place again for nurses and ambulance staff this month and now the news of junior doctors potentially walking out for 72 hours if their ballot is successful, will be of great concern for health leaders up and down the country.
“We have said time and again that no health leader wants to be in this situation, and we urge the government to meet with BMA and all NHS unions to reach common ground on pay so that further industrial action can be avoided, and staff concerns properly addressed.
“In the face of increasing winter pressure, a huge hole in vacancies and upcoming strikes in January set to impact services, the government cannot just sit back and let even more strikes happen when patient care is on the line and the unions must be open to reaching a compromise.”
The Royal College of Nursing yesterday said it could be set to accept a pay deal of 10%, according to the union’s boss Pat Cullen, meeting the government about halfway on the union’s original pay demand. The RCN has said its members will strike again in England on 18-19 January unless the government is willing to negotiate.
On the proposed 72-hour junior doctors strike, the Department of Health and Social Care said: “Our multi-year pay deal with the BMA is increasing junior doctors’ pay by a cumulative 8.2% by 2023. We have also invested an additional £90m to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increased allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends, and increased rates of pay for night shifts.”