The BMA has announced a new consultants strike, as it was revealed ministers have refused to meet the doctor’s union since May.
This week’s consultant strikes started at 7am today and are due to end 7am Saturday, with the next dates planned for 19-20 September.
But BMA said that ‘in the absence of any progress in discussions with Government’ they will also launch a three-day strike lasting from 2-4 October.
Meanwhile, health minister Will Quince revealed Government ministers have not met with the BMA consultants committee since 27 March – before they balloted to take industrial action. They also have not met with the junior doctors committee since 12 May.
Answering a written question from the Labour Party, Mr Quince said: ‘The Secretary of State’s officials engage with unions regularly on his behalf.
‘As has always been the case, the Secretary of State is keen to hear about how the working lives of National Health Service staff can be improved and remains open to discussions about non-pay issues.’
The Government announced a 6% pay rise for doctors (excluding GP partners) last month, saying this was a ‘final’ offer which ‘no amount of strikes’ would change.
BMA consultants committee chair Dr Vishal Sharma said: ‘No consultant wants to be striking so we head out to picket lines today with heavy hearts. We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients. But we cannot sit by and watch passively as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave – much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.’
He added: ‘By refusing to talk to us – and it’s now been 150 days since the health secretary met with us – it just shows that the Government is not serious about the NHS, its workforce or patients.
‘Our message to the Prime Minister is that we are serious about protecting the consultant workforce and thereby the NHS and patients. We are striking today, and will do so again in September and October, but the Prime Minister has the power to avert any action at all, by getting around the table and presenting us with a credible offer.
‘Consultants are clear that they’re prepared to take regular action and politicians must be left in no doubt that our dispute will not go away simply because they refuse to negotiate. We will not be ignored.’
‘There were no national NHS strikes when Labour was last in office. We need a government that will treat NHS staff with respect, open its door for talks, and bring these strikes to an end.’
Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I am concerned and disappointed that the BMA has gone ahead with this industrial action which will continue to affect patients and hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists.
‘I’m aware some consultants cut short their annual leave over the most recent periods of industrial action by the BMA Junior Doctors Committee and I am incredibly grateful to those staff who came forward to help protect patients and services.
‘We have accepted the independent pay review body recommendations in full, giving consultants a 6% pay rise which means average NHS earnings for consultants of £134,000, on top of a pension where generous tax changes mean a consultant can retire at age 65 with a pension each year for life of £78,000 a year. This pay award is final and I urge the BMA to call an end to strikes.’
Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: ‘The Conservatives have given up any attempt to solve strikes in the NHS. Rishi Sunak refuses to speak to doctors, and instead shamelessly uses them as an excuse for his failure to cut waiting lists.
‘Patients don’t want excuses, they want action. If the Conservatives have given up on governing, they should step aside and let Labour clean up their mess.