Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers part of the NHS Confederation, said this action would “erode sympathy” for the doctors’ cause.
But the British Medical Association (BMA), representing more than two-thirds of UK doctors, said the rates were “entirely appropriate” and reflect the “market value” of doctors’ work which would be over and above contracted hours.
The BMA is recommending members ask for hourly rates between £158 per hour and £262 per hour depending on time of day and week for extracontractual work providing expertise and care in the absence of a junior doctor during industrial action.
Up to 47,600 junior doctors in England are to go ahead with a 72-hour strike from 13 March after talks broke down between Health Secretary Steve Barclay and junior doctors over a new pay deal.
Consultants can earn between £88,000 and £119,000 a year on basic pay if they are on the 2003 contract.
Recommended rates for extra-contractual work are £158 per hour for weekdays from 7am-7pm, £210 per hour for weekdays from 7pm-11pm, £210 per hour at weekend from 7am-11pm and then £262 per hour for work overnight from 11pm-7am.
The BMA said the overnight rate is based on the “bottom end of the normal rate expected for a lawyer, accountant or management consultant during daytime hours”.
Dr Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants’ committee chair, said: “We wholeheartedly support and stand in solidarity with our junior doctor colleagues in their industrial action and pursuit of full pay restoration.
“Consultants, having themselves experienced real-terms pay cuts of more than a third over the last 15 years, know all too well the damaging impact pay erosion has on morale and staff retention.
“On strike days it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that services are staffed safely, and they have been given adequate notice of when the action is set to take place.
“Where consultants do cover junior doctors during strike days this is additional work that is not part of their contract and therefore it is entirely appropriate that this extra-contractual work attracts either additional pay or time off in lieu.”
He said the BMA’s rate card was developed to address issues around trusts pressurising consultants to work many extra hours in excess of their normal contracts and to provide a consistent approach to extra-contractual pay.
“These rates therefore reflect the market value of doctors’ work”, he said, “The BMA rate card rates are recommended for all work undertaken outside of the normal contract and they are therefore appropriate to use for covering absent junior doctors as this work is quite clearly extra-contractual.”
And he urged the employers to engage with senior doctors to agree the cover arrangements over the strike period.
But Mr Mortimer said: “Healthcare leaders support the national and local mechanisms that exist to reach agreements with the medical trade unions, and there is a long history of working together to overcome shared problems and challenges.
“NHS leaders also have real sympathy for the pensions taxation challenges faced by senior doctors and have consistently argued that annual allowance taxation should not be applied to NHS pensions, and the government now the opportunity to act decisively in this regard in the Chancellor’s forthcoming Spring Statement.
“However, that sympathy is being eroded by this unilateral action with regards to the rate card by the largest medical trade union, the BMA. If their dispute is with the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the government with regards both pay and pensions, it seems unreasonable to act without first seeking any kind of agreement with employers.”