The British Medical Association (BMA) has offered to call off a planned strike by junior doctors later this month if NHS bosses give permission for further time for negotiations.
The trade union for doctors and medical students announced the industrial action after it said the Government had “failed to meet the deadline to put an improved pay offer on the table”.
Thousands of medics will strike in England for five days from 7am on February 24 until 11.59pm on February 28.
But now the BMA has written to the leaders of NHS Employers asking for them to increase the period during which it is allowed to hold strike action in order for further pay negotiations to take place.
In a letter to Danny Mortimer, the chief executive of NHS Employers, the BMA chairman of council, Professor Philip Banfield, has asked him to agree to the extension, which he can do on behalf of hospital trusts.
Doctors, we pulled out all the stops to avert this round of strikes.
We asked the health secretary to extend our strike mandate for four weeks so we could keep talking in good faith. But she declined, leaving us no choice but to announce a 5-day full walkout from 24-28 Feb. pic.twitter.com/t8iW4uDJDK
— Junior Doctors (@BMA_JuniorDocs) February 9, 2024
He says in the letter: “In return for this agreement the BMA Junior Doctors Committee is prepared to cancel the planned strike action for 24th to 28th February, providing space for the Government to negotiate with us during the next two weeks.”
The BMA suggests that if NHS Employers agree to the request, it will allow Health Secretary Victoria Atkins and the Government more time to “present a credible pay offer” to junior doctors.
The Government has previously said that it was not willing to negotiate while strike dates were pending.
In a letter seen by the PA news agency, Mr Mortimer replied to the BMA saying that he could not direct NHS trusts on how to respond to the proposal and added that the focus should be on negotiating a settlement.
He wrote: “NHS leaders are deeply concerned both at the fact of the action the JDC are choosing to take in late February, and also for the decision to strike for an extended period of five days.
“They would join me in urging the JDC to instead focus on finding a way to resume and conclude negotiations with the government.
“I know that you yesterday asked the Secretary of State to consider the question of an extension to the present JDC strike mandate.
“I want to be clear that her response is one I support and, in any event, I do not have the ability to direct NHS organisations to accede to your request.”
The BMA has also not ruled out further strike action after these dates, with junior doctors in England previously staging the longest strike in NHS history in January, for six full days from January 3 to January 9.
The latest round will be the 10th strike by junior doctors since March 2023.
The BMA has said the “glacial speed of progress” over pay with the Government was “frustrating and incomprehensible”.
My statement on Junior Doctors calling further strike dates. pic.twitter.com/UtzdUxzwJH
— Victoria Atkins (@VictoriaAtkins) February 9, 2024
It has said the new round of strikes would be the last on their current mandate, which expires at the end of this month.
However, it is balloting on extending the mandate by a further six months.
Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “This action called by the BMA junior doctor committee does not signal that they are ready to be reasonable.
“We already provided them with a pay increase of up to 10.3% and were prepared to go further.
“We urged them to put an offer to their members, but they refused. We are also open to further discussions on improving doctors’ and the wider workforce’s working lives.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of “personally blocking a deal with the junior doctors”.
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— NHS Providers (@NHSProviders) February 9, 2024
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters he wants the Government to “negotiate and bring this to an end”.
Thousands of NHS appointments and operations are likely to be cancelled during the fresh round of strikes, after the six-day strike in January saw more than 100,000 appointments put on hold.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, described the announcement of further industrial action as “another body blow for leaders of NHS services already stretched to the limit”.
“Patients having to wait even longer for the care they need is a huge concern,” he said.
Junior doctors have received a pay rise averaging nearly 9% this financial year.
The BMA has been asking for 35% “pay restoration” as its starting position, but has said it is willing to negotiate.
Junior doctors make up around half of the NHS doctor workforce.
They can have up to nine years’ of working experience as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to five years’ experience to become a GP.
Junior doctor members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) will also walk out from February 24 until February 29.