Almost 900,000 NHS appointments have been postponed across hospitals, mental health and community services in England due to ongoing strikes since December.
And today, a specialist, associate specialist and specialty (SAS) doctors became the latest group to ‘consider planning for an indicative ballot for industrial action’ if the Government does not improve pay and working conditions.
Meanwhile, the BMA in Wales announced it will ballot secondary care doctors on strike action following a breakdown of pay negotiations with the Welsh Government last month. The Government offered a 5% pay rise for this financial year, which BMA Wales rejected as a ‘further pay erosion’ given inflation.
But yesterday in Scotland, junior doctors ‘voted conclusively’ to accept the Scottish Government’s offer of a 12.4% pay rise, which it said represented a ‘compromise’.
NHS England official figures on industrial action show that 897,341 appointments across hospitals and mental health and community services have been rescheduled since December, with the vast majority taking place in acute settings.
Beginning in mid-December with the Royal College of Nursing industrial action, England strikes have spanned junior doctors, consultants, ambulance workers, physiotherapists, hospital dentists, and radiographers to date.
The most recent junior doctor strike, between 11 and 15 August, resulted in 61,835 rescheduled appointments.
NHS England national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis warned the total number of rescheduled appointments ‘will soon hit one million’ if strikes continue.
He said: ‘It’s difficult to overstate the scale of the disruption, as many services also avoid scheduling appointments for strike days meaning the true figure will be even higher.
‘During almost nine months of action, our hard-working staff have done all they can to keep patients safe while tackling a record backlog, but there is no doubt this cumulative impact is posing a huge challenge for the health service.’
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery urged the Government and unions to ‘sit down urgently to find a resolution on pay’.
She said: ‘Years of squeezed funding for the NHS followed by a pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis, workforce shortages and industrial action have stacked pressure on the health service. This will become even more challenging when we head into winter, the busiest time of year.’
‘Trusts do everything they can to ensure patient safety during a strike, but the cost of industrial action is clearly too high for this to become business as usual,’ Ms Cordery added.
Junior doctors in England are seeking to achieve full pay restoration, which would mean a reversal of pay cuts amounting to 26% since 2008.
Similarly, consultants are taking industrial action due to an ongoing pay dispute with the Government, with the BMA arguing that this group has experienced a 35% drop in the value of pay since 2008.
A further two-day consultants strike is due to take place from Thursday 24 August.
On the end to junior doctor strikes in Scotland, BMA Scotland JDC chair Dr Chris Smith said: ‘Key to this offer, that sets it apart from what is happening elsewhere in the UK, is that the Scottish government recognises this reality and has agreed to ongoing negotiations towards full pay restoration to 2008 levels, with an unprecedented commitment to set inflation as the floor of the pay offer at each round of negotiation.’
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak blamed striking doctors for long NHS waiting lists, saying that the industrial action is the reason patients have to wait for appointments.
On the potential of GPs joining strikes, the BMA’s GP Committee for England has said it is planning to develop a network of activist GPs across the country to ‘galvanise solidarity’ around industrial action.