Striking junior doctors could meet the Health Secretary as soon as this afternoon to discuss a pay rise, the British Medical Association (BMA) said.
Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said he hopes talks with Steve Barclay can begin soon. It comes after a breakthrough was reached between the Government and 14 health unions over a better pay deal for around a million NHS staff.
Thursday’s offer for other NHS staff – worth £2.5bn and backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and Unison – includes a one-off lump sum for 2022/23 which rises in value up the NHS pay bands as well as a permanent 5 per cent rise on all pay points for 2023/24. It followed days of talks between health unions and the Government, raising hopes the long-running dispute could be brought to an end.
Attention now turns to the dispute involving junior doctors, who went on a 72-hour strike without emergency cover this week with the promise of more industrial action to come. The BMA is demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors, who can have many years’ experience and make up about 45 per cent of the medical workforce. It says their pay has fallen in real terms by 26.1 per cent since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3 per cent pay rise.
Dr Trivedi said: “Our position has been that we are open to talk in good faith, meaningfully, at any time. We were ready to talk months ago. Our formal dispute started over 150 days ago and, again, that is just what I mean in that it is disappointing it has taken Steve Barclay so long to get to the negotiating table. I only hope that he does come with good faith and a mandate to negotiate.
“So far we haven’t arranged a time for this afternoon but there has been some correspondence between our offices so it does look like we’ll be able to set something up in the near future.”
Mr Barclay has called on junior doctors to follow the example of other health unions, who on Thursday said they will recommend a pay deal to NHS staff including nurses and ambulance workers. Unite is the only union so far to say it would not recommend the deal but said it is for members to make the final decision.
Mr Barclay said: “We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to.”
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said on Thursday the Government hopes to strike a similar pay deal with junior doctors. “The same offer is there. I think it would be the right thing to do for them to accept it. I hope they will,” he said.
“I think it is a good deal, which is fair, which recognises the situation they are in, recognises the need we all have got to tackle the backlog in the NHS.”
The Treasury, Department of Health and NHS England will now begin talks on who will fund the new offer. This year’s initial 3.5 per cent pay offer was above what the Government had originally planned and NHS trusts had to make up the difference from exisiting budgets.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted frontline services will “absolutely not” be affected by any final pay deal, while Mr Barclay said funding for the agreement will not come at the expense of patients.
Union members will now vote on whether to accept the deal for workers including nurses and paramedics and are expected to consider the detail over the coming days and weeks. The offer has already seen planned strikes called off.
Meanwhile, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS does not have the money “just lying around” to fund the pay offer itself. He said it will be “very important that we find out in the next few days how we’re going to meet this extra cost”.
Mr Taylor said: “The Government has said in its press release that the cost of this will be met without any impact on patient services or quality of care. Well, that’s a good guarantee. And we’ll want to see that being delivered on in the next few days.”
“There’s no way that the NHS can find one-and-a-half, two billion, two-and-a-half billion pounds without an impact on patient services or quality of care. We don’t have that money just lying around.
Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB, said that officials negotiating on behalf of NHS workers for a pay rise were told the proposed 5 per cent pay increase from April would not be funded from the health service’s existing budgets.
She said: “That was one of the conditions that the GMB and some of the other unions put on the table before we even entered the room. We wanted reassurance that this was additional money and it was not going to come out of NHS current budgets and that was the commitment we were given by the Government.”