The Government is considering introducing new industrial action regulations which would require NHS doctors and nurses to provide ‘minimum service levels’ during strikes.
The new minimum service level (MSL) regulations would be put in place ‘to protect patient safety’, health secretary Steve Barclay said today.
It comes as hospital consultants are walking out today and will be joined by junior doctors tomorrow in the first day of a joint strike.
They will be walking out in September and October across four days, which will see ‘Christmas Day levels of staffing’ from both groups.
The Government said that while voluntary agreements between employers and trade unions can be agreed ahead of time, ‘they can lead to inconsistency across the country’, come with ‘significant uncertainty’ as they are ‘based on goodwill’ and ‘not always honoured or communicated in sufficient time’ and that this creates ‘an unnecessary risk to patient safety’.
It is consulting on introducing MSLs that would cover urgent, emergency and time-critical hospital-based health services and is seeking views on a set of principles for setting MSLs in regulations.
But BMA council chair Professor Phil Banfield said that the union has been clear that any strike action taken by members preserves minimum levels of staffing to ensure patient safety.
He said: ‘If this Government was serious about patient safety, it would not have deliberately run down the health service over the last 10 years, with the terrible, adverse effects that austerity has had on the health of the nation every day.
‘We have always maintained that consultants and junior doctors together, will never stage a full walk out and we have been clear that we are not planning to do so, with urgent and emergency care continuing to run. It is disingenuous for the Secretary of State to say otherwise.’
He said that this week’s industrial action comes as a result of this Government ‘failing to address the unprecedented staffing crisis that is engulfing our NHS’, and ‘betraying the doctors who they applauded through the pandemic’, by failing to value their work.
Professor Banfield added: ‘The only route to ending these strikes is for the Government to drop its opposition to negotiating a new pay deal and get round the table with doctors with a credible offer.
‘Rather than focusing on strike days, ministers should be looking to make sure that our health service is safely staffed for 365 days a year.’
Mr Barclay said: ‘This week’s coordinated and calculated strike action will create further disruption and misery for patients and NHS colleagues.
‘My top priority is to protect patients and these regulations would provide a safety net for trusts and an assurance to the public that vital health services will be there when they need them.
‘Doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise alongside generous reforms to their pensions, which was the BMA’s number one ask.
‘In the face of ongoing and escalating strike action, we will continue to take steps to protect patient safety and ensure the health service has the staff it needs to operate safely and effectively.’
Last month, the doctors’ union had announced a new consultants strike, as it was revealed ministers have refused to meet the doctor’s union since May.
Junior doctors have staged 19 days of strike action since March, while consultants have staged four days, and there are at least five more planned in the coming weeks, including four days of combined action with junior doctors.
Earlier this year, the union issued guidance for GP trainees as it said it is ‘essential that this significant cohort demonstrates the strength of feeling amongst the profession by participating fully in this industrial action’.
The BMA had previously confirmed that GP trainees would not be barred from protesting during the junior doctor strikes, but would only be able to join a picket line at or close to their place of work.