Thousands of junior doctors vote on strike action

If there is a yes vote, the doctors will begin their action with a 72-hour full walkout in March.

09 January 2023

Thousands of junior doctors in England are voting on whether to strike over pay in the latest outbreak of industrial unrest sweeping the country.

Around 45,000 members of the British Medical Association (BMA) are being balloted on Monday, with the result due at the end of February.

The BMA has told the Government if there is a yes vote, junior doctors will begin their action with a 72-hour “full walkout” in March.

Speaking on Monday, Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chairwoman at the BMA, said the chances of junior doctors striking was “very high” as she urged constructive talks with Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

She told Sky News: “Steve Barclay’s planning to meet with us on Wednesday but only to discuss a very narrow set of things.

“He’s talking about the evidence that the Government will submit to the pay review body.

“Unfortunately, they’ve already submitted their remit letter to the pay review body telling us and them that we only should receive 2% next year.

“So, that’s another massive pay cut after we’ve had a pay cut this year, and for the previous 15 years.

“Again, another pay cut on top of the quarter pay cut we’ve already received, so I’m not optimistic … about the meetings, though we will go and we will negotiate if that is an available option to us.”

She said doctors wanted to see a health service “where we can give the care that patients deserve”.

Steve Barclay comments
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay will meet the BMA on Wednesday but its deputy chairwoman Dr Emma Runswick said she was ‘not optimistic’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

She added: “We can’t do that at the moment because we are losing staff hand over fist either to other professions or to abroad, and there are a whole number of reasons for that, but pay is a significant one.

“I’ve got a colleague who’s gone to Australia, she’s doing fewer hours than I am and she’s earning 1.7 times as much.”

She said conditions in the NHS were very difficult at the moment, with beds pushed up against fire escapes and patients treated in corridors.

Asked if junior doctors were asking for a 26% pay rise, she said: “We’re asking for the reversal of that pay cut (over the last 15 years).

“So, mathematically, it might even be more and if we have another pay cut this year, it’ll be more again. So, we’re only asking for what we’ve had cut from us back.”

She said the Government made choices about what to spend money on, saying: “The cost for full pay restoration for junior doctors is approximately £1 billion, they spent quadruple that – £4 billion – on useless PPE, they spent 37 times that on the very useless track and trace programme.

“So, all of these are Government choices. It’s our belief that if they choose to spend on retention of staff, then they will receive it back many times over in the improved health of our population.”

The BMA has said patients are suffering and exhausted staff are burning out and leaving the NHS and yet the Government “fails to see the crisis in front of it”.

Ministers are also accused of ignoring all the evidence to the contrary and preferring to treat the public as “fools” with assurances the NHS has all the resources it needs.

It said the “doctors’ pay review body has been constrained by political interference for more than a decade”.

It added: “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.”

Junior doctors will not provide emergency care during any strike, the BMA has said, adding trusts will need to arrange emergency cover to ensure patient safety.

“We will be giving trusts and the Government enough notice to prepare for this. This is to ensure that patients whose appointments are cancelled know well in advance and to ensure that employers can manage their medical rotas appropriately to ensure emergency care is no different to any other day,” the BMA said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said a multi-year pay deal with the BMA is increasing junior doctors’ pay by a cumulative 8.2% by March 2023.

“We have also invested an additional £90 million to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increase allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends and increase rates of pay for night shifts,” he said.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary wants to have an honest conversation with unions – including the BMA – about what is affordable in pay settlements for next year during these challenging times, and has invited them to discuss as soon as possible.”

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