Tens of thousands of junior doctors in England have gone on a 72-hour strike today in a dispute over pay.

They began the action at 7am on Monday, with every region in England likely to be affected. Striking staff will resume their shifts starting from 7am on the 16 March. Here is what we know about the dispute.

Why are junior doctors going out on strike?

As many as 61,000 medics are striking in pursuit of a pay increase of 26 per cent. Members of the British Medical Association (BMA), which is organising the strike, say they are also taking the action as junior doctors feel undervalued and overworked.

Junior doctors make up 45 per cent of the medical workforce and two thirds of them are members of the British Medical Association.

The BMA said newly qualified medics earn £14.09 an hour, less than a barista in a coffee shop, adding that junior doctors in England will have suffered a 26 per cent real-terms cut to their pay since 2008/09. They are asking for the £14.09 an hour to be increased to £19 an hour.

An advertising campaign launched by the trade union 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.”

Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, 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.”

When did junior doctors last have a pay rise?

According to Dr Naru Narayanan, the President of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) union, junior doctors have “not had any pay increase for the last 15 years”.

He told the BBC: “If they’d had that pay increase year-on-year then we wouldn’t be in this position.

“Junior doctors come out after six years of medical school… to a salary of £14 an hour with debts exceeding £100,000. In addition they have got to pay for their own exams and training. It is just untenable.

“At the moment what they are asking [for] will put up their rate to £19 an hour. Is that too much to ask?’

Dr Trivedi told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We’ve let the Government know about this for months, if not years, and we’ve been in a formal dispute with the Government for over 150 days since October. And it’s been disappointing that we’ve had radio silence from them this whole time.”

He added the BMA has told ministers how pay affects morale, retention of staff and creates a workforce crisis, but the Government has failed to respond.

The BMA has previously met Health Secretary Steve Barclay but “he said he doesn’t even have a mandate to negotiate with us, he couldn’t put anything on the table”, Dr Trivedi said.

“So to then have a letter from him which says we’re happy to talk but it has preconditions which he knows our membership would never accept, it doesn’t seem like an offer of good faith.”

The BMA explains that junior doctors in England are taking strike action in 2023 to:

1. to achieve full pay restoration to reverse the steep decline in pay faced by junior doctors since 2008/9.

2. to agree on a mechanism with the Government to prevent any future declines against the cost of living and inflation.

3. 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.

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What does the Government say?

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was “very disappointing that the junior doctors’ union are not engaging with the Government.”

He added that he would urge doctors to “accept the Government’s offer to come in and have talks, the other unions have done that and we are making progress.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve 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.”

What services will be affected?

Some people may have their hospital appointments postponed and Professor Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, suggested on Times Radio that cancer care is likely to be affected by the junior doctor strikes.

He said the NHS is doing “everything we can to ensure that urgent cancer procedures go ahead but, unfortunately, even some of those may be affected this week, such is the extent of the disruption that we’re likely to see.

“If that does occur, we will reschedule people as quickly as possible.”

Consultants are expected to provide some cover during strikes, Professor Powis said, but it “is going to be a hard three days and it’s going to be quite challenging”.

He said that so far this winter more than 100,000 operations and outpatient appointments have had to be rescheduled. More will need to be rescheduled due to the junior doctor strikes.

However, the NHS advice is still to call 999 in an emergency. Unless told otherwise, you should also turn up for your appointments.

NHS emergency care will be available and those needing critical care, newborn baby care and trauma will be prioritised.

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