Junior doctors began a three-day strike from 7am on Monday as the British Medical Association (BMA) ramps up its campaign for a huge pay rise.
BMA members voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action last month. Almost every junior doctor who cast a vote did so in favour of taking strike action and turnout was in excess of 77 per cent.
Nearly 37,000 votes were cast and 98 per cent of those were in favour of strike action,in what was the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the BMA, with a record number of junior doctors supporting strike action.
What will the walkout involve?
The 72-hour walkout will involve a “full stoppage of work” – including nights and on-call shifts and leaving no emergency cover – by up to 47,600 BMA members.
Junior doctors belonging to the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, which is also campaigning for pay restoration, will also go on strike on Wednesday.
Consultants will be expected to stand in for some of the work of junior doctors, although some 200,000 appointments and non-urgent operations are expected to be postponed.
The BMA describes the strikes as “the first round of action” in its battle with the Government. Junior doctors on strike will return to work from 7am on Thursday.
What are the doctors demanding?
The union is campaigning for pay to be restored to 2008 levels, arguing that junior doctors have suffered a 26.1 per cent real-terms pay cut over the last 15 years. Achieving restoration would involve a 35.3 per cent pay rise, according to the BMA’s own calculations.
The BMA has two further aims: to agree on a mechanism with the Government to prevent any future declines against the cost of living and inflation; and to reform the DDRB (Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body) process, so pay increases can be recommended independently and fairly to safeguard the recruitment and retention of junior doctors.
The union said there had been “no meaningful engagement” with the Government in recent months, prior to Health Secretary Steve Barclay making a last-minute invitation to the BMA to talk.
Mr Barclay said he had proposed negotiations “on the same basis other health unions accepted”, after planned industrial action by tens of thousands of key workers was suspended when the Government agreed to discuss pay for this year.
Unions representing ambulance workers, physiotherapists, nurses and midwives have been in talks with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since Tuesday. But the discussions have not involved junior doctors in the BMA, who said the invitation had arrived too late to avert this week’s strike action.
How important are junior doctors
On the eve of the strikes, the BMA launched an advertising campaign which said junior doctors could earn more money “serving coffee than saving patients”.
The campaign says: “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.”
Junior doctors are qualified doctors in clinical training who see patients in a hospital or GP practice. The terms “junior” and “senior” in the medical profession indicate whether or not a doctor is still in training and whether they can practice independently without supervision.
The title “junior doctor” can refer to anyone below the level of consultant, from newly qualified medics to specialist registrars. They have anything up to eight years’ experience working as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to three years in general practice. Experienced junior doctors usually earn between £50,000 and £60,000 a year.
What does the Government say?
Mr Barclay said: “It is incredibly disappointing the British Medical Association has declined my offer to enter formal pay negotiations on the condition strikes are paused.
“I hugely value the hard work of junior doctors and urge unions to come to the negotiating table and cancel strikes which risk patient safety and impact efforts to tackle the backlog. I want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK.
“I’ve been having constructive and meaningful talks with unions representing nurses, ambulance workers and other non-medical staff, which have agreed to pause strike action, and negotiations will continue this week.
“We have been working closely with NHS England on contingency plans to help protect patient safety during strikes, prioritising emergency, urgent and critical care – but there will inevitably be some disruption for patients.”
NHS leaders have said they are very worried that the walkout by junior doctors will take disruption caused by recent strikes to the next level, posing a risk to patient safety and setting back work to bear down on care backlogs. Talks between the Government and other health unions will continue this week, holding out hope of a breakthrough in the long-running NHS pay dispute.