Junior doctors can “make more serving coffee than saving patients”, the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned ahead of a 72-hour walkout which begins tomorrow.

NHS hospitals are bracing for further chaos as the three-day strike begins at trusts across England. Up to 47,600 medics will walk out without providing emergency cover in a move that is expected to see 200,000 operations and appointments cancelled.

The NHS has said it will prioritise resources to protect emergency and critical care, maternity care and where possible prioritise patients who have waited the longest for elective care and cancer surgery.

However, with around 61,000 junior doctors making up half of the medical workforce, the action is expected to see some of the most severe strike disruption of NHS services to date and have a huge impact on the drive to reduce waiting lists for elective care.

On the eve of industrial action junior doctors’ leaders have launched an advertising campaign saying they could earn more serving coffee at Pret a Manger. The BMA said newly-qualified medics earn £14.09 an hour, based on a full-time salary of £29,384 for foundation year 1 for 2022-23.

In contrast, Pret announced earlier this month that it was giving staff a third pay rise in 12 months, with its baristas able to earn up to £11.80 to £14.10 an hour depending on location and experience. The highest hourly pay in the new rates starting from April includes a bonus for providing good service.

The BMA said junior doctors in England have suffered a 26.1 per cent real-terms cut to their pay since 2008/09 and is campaigning for pay restoration.

Launching the campaign on Sunday, the BMA said: “Pret a Manger has announced it will pay up to £14.10 per hour. A junior doctor makes just £14.09. Thanks to this Government you can make more serving coffee than saving patients. This week junior doctors will take strike action so they are paid what they are worth.”

Dr Becky Bates, a first-year junior doctor in the Midlands, said: “I thought by being a doctor I would be able to achieve financial independence, but instead I am still completely dependent on others. With tuition fee loans, credit cards and personal loans, I’ve left medical school with over £100,000 debt, and now my wages are not even enough to allow me to fix my car when something goes wrong.

“I’ve found myself only driving around in daytime because my lights don’t work properly. I come from a single-parent family. I don’t come from money, yet at 28 I am relying on my mother taking out credit card debt so I can meet these expenses. It’s humiliating for me and it’s not fair on her.

“Looking ahead, I have to move to a different hospital in a different city as part of my training but have no idea how I’ll fund this if I need to move house. I can’t even afford to pay for the exams I need to progress in my career.”

Dr Bates said her situation is “far from unique”, which is why she and her colleagues are taking industrial action. To meet the BMA’s demand for pay restoration, junior doctors would need to receive a pay rise of 35.3 per cent, which officials say is unrealistic.

Co-chairs of the BMA's junior doctors' committee Vivek Trivedi (left) and Rob Laurenson have said medics have been left no choice but to take industrial action. 
  (Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctors’ committee Vivek Trivedi (left) and Rob Laurenson said medics have been left with no choice but to take industrial action. (Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire Photographer)

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairmen of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “Is £14.09 an hour really all junior doctors are worth? These are people who can be providing life-saving care, having trained intensively at medical school, and racking up around £100,000 worth of debt in the process.

“We are fully supportive of any worker getting an inflation-matching pay rise, and it is worth thinking on the fact that the Government has cut junior doctors’ pay by so much that they could earn more serving coffee. Is it any surprise that junior doctors are looking for jobs abroad or in other fields when the Government is telling them they are worth more than a quarter less than they were in 2008?

“Losing such valuable clinicians to other countries and professions when waiting lists are at record highs means patients will suffer even more than they are already. This is why doctors are going on strike.

“We are fighting to restore our pay. We are fighting to restore our value. We are fighting to restore our workforce to make the NHS an effective healthcare system again.”

Junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association will also strike – for the first time in the union’s history – this week. Members will walkout on Wednesday after 97 per cent voted for industrial action.

On Friday night, Health Secretary Steve Barclay sent a least-minute invitation to the BMA to enter into formal pay talks. The invitation, sent just before 10pm, was made on the condition that junior doctors accept a number of preconditions, including that all planned strike action must be called off, with immediate effect.

The BMA responded saying it remained open to entering talks with government anytime, but that it was too late to call off Monday’s strike.

The head of NHS Providers, which represents trusts, said it was “deeply disappointing” that the industrial action could not be averted.

Sir Julian Hartley said: “This is a setback for the NHS. The people who will suffer will be patients facing yet more disruption, and staff whose morale will take a further hit. It is good to see that plans are now in place to handle a major incident. The public would expect nothing less.

“But for trust leaders the preparations for strikes are a major and unwelcome distraction from the pressing need to address the NHS’s big strategic challenges, including recovering backlogs.”

Pay talks between the Government and the Royal College of Nursing, as well as other health unions, will enter a second week tomorrow as both sides seek a breakthrough on their dispute.

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