Health unions and ministers are locked in a war of words as each side blames the other for failing to stop the looming doctors’ strikes.
Other NHS workers including nurses and paramedics have agreed a deal with the Government to end months of industrial action, pending a vote by members.
But the junior doctors’ committee of the British Medical Association (BMA) has accused ministers of refusing to engage seriously with its demands.
In turn, Health Secretary Steve Barclay warned there was no prospect of last-minute talks to stop the four-day stoppage scheduled for this week – claiming that the BMA had made unrealistic requests for pay rises of up to £20,000.
He wrote in the Sunday Telegraph: “The decision by BMA junior doctors’ leaders to maintain an unrealistic position meant we were unable to make progress with talks. It seems they are intent on maintaining a militant stance rather than working with the Government and NHS management to meet the best interests of their members and of patients.”
There is “no prospect of getting into serious and constructive talks” unless the union drops its demand to have doctors’ salaries restored to the real-terms level they reached in 2010, before funding cuts and inflation reduced their value, Mr Barclay added.
The BMA has insisted that it is not too late to call off the strikes but warned it would not return to the negotiating table without a serious offer from the Government. A union source said: “We have said we need a credible offer to start talks. There has been nothing much from them.”
Dr Mike Greenhalgh, deputy co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, told the BBC over the weekend: “It’s hard to negotiate when only one side is doing it and we’re not getting anything back from the Government on that front.”
The union claims that a pay rise of 35 per cent is needed to restore doctors’ spending power, a position the Government has dismissed as unaffordable. The two sides have repeatedly written letters to each other professing they are willing to open face-to-face negotiations but have not been able to agree on the conditions for an initial meeting.
Most other health strikes have now been paused after ministers agreed to offer a one-off bonus payment for last year, described as recognition for NHS workers’ efforts during the pandemic, as well as a pay rise of 5 per cent for the new financial year. It is not yet clear where the funding for the increased salaries will come from: the Government has promised that frontline services will not be affected but the Treasury has not committed extra money for pay.