England’s junior doctors will strike for 72 hours in March if next week’s ballot is successful, the BMA has announced.
The doctors’ union said it is still seeking a negotiated solution to avoid industrial action but that health secretary Steve Barclay continues to ‘ignore all invitations from the BMA to meet with doctors to discuss their pay’.
The Government yesterday said ministers are ‘reaching out to unions to invite them to sit down and discuss the evidence that the government will be submitting to the pay review bodies – and hopes that unions will also share their evidence’.
The offer was made alongside the announcement of new legislation around industrial action which effectively curb unions’ right to suspend public services.
In response, the BMA said the offer was ‘not fit for purpose’ and Monday’s ballot would still go ahead.
This follows a tumultuous few months which saw both nurses and ambulance staff take strike action, while train services have been hampered by long-running trade disputes.
The BMA argues that junior doctors have seen 15 years of real-terms pay cuts, amounting to a 26.1% decline in pay since 2008/09.
And it warns that unless the Government reverses these pay cuts more doctors will leave the NHS at the same time as it tackling record waiting lists.
Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: ‘Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were fifteen years ago nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own Government. Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly.
‘The Government’s refusal to address fifteen years of pay erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to ballot for industrial action. If the Government won’t fight for our health service, then we will.’
They added that it was ‘particularly galling’ for junior doctors ‘to see the Government repeatedly justify huge real terms pay cuts for NHS staff by claiming that these have been made by so-called “independent” pay review bodies, free from government interference’.
‘The reality is that the doctors’ pay review body has been constrained by political interference for more than a decade,’ they argued.
‘Even after recommendations have been made to increase junior doctors’ pay, the Government has completely ignored them and has asked the pay review body to completely exclude junior doctors from its recommendations. When even the pay review process – broken as it is – is telling ministers to act, you know something has gone seriously wrong.’
The Government has also asked the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration to exclude GP partners from pay recommendations.
An announcement from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy yesterday said about an invitation to talks with union leaders: ‘If the offer is accepted, discussions will take place between government departments and unions in the coming weeks on issues including pay evidence, workload and conditions in the public sector. These discussions will help ensure the evidence submitted to the pay review bodies is as considered and informed as possible, including reflecting areas of common ground.
‘The Government is clear that the well-established independent pay review process is the right way to set public sector pay – it provides independent, expert advice and is a neutral process in which all parties play a role. These new discussions would feed into this process and are offered as the Government recognises the particular economic challenges the country faces this year.’
But Dr Emma Runswick, BMA deputy chair of council, said: ‘This Government has failed to ensure anything like minimum standards of patient care or service delivery in the NHS for many months, if not years. It is therefore laughable that Ministers are now attempting to bring in anti-union and anti-worker legislation under the false pretence of improving patient safety.
‘Rather than fixing the root of the problem – the reasons why so many public sector workers feel they have no option but to strike – ministers are focussing their attention on the rules around industrial action. They are willing to risk infringing human rights while doing nothing about the NHS pay and working conditions crises they refuse to even acknowledge.’
Meanwhile, the London Ambulance Service is asking for more than 300 clinicians from primary care to help cover the strike next week.
Unison has called two January strike days on the 11 and 23 January each for 24 hours and involving all ambulance employees.
Note: This article was amended at 1pm on 6 January to reflect that the BMA has not announced a start date for the strike action. A previous article of this story incorrectly said a date was set for 9 March.