Junior doctor talks will open on day one of Labour government, vows Starmer

Labour has pledged to open discussions with junior doctors on July 5 if the party wins the General Election.

Junior doctors in England have started a five-day walkout across the country and will return to work on July 2 – just two days before voters go to the polls.

Sir Keir Starmer said he would open talks on day one of a Labour government if he is elected on July 4.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it stands ready to talk and the union has already had some discussions with the Labour Party.

During a campaign visit to Staffordshire, Labour leader Sir Keir told reporters: “I don’t want these strikes to be going ahead.

“This is a problem the Government has failed to deal with, and if we’re elected into government we will have to pick it up. What we will do is ensure on day one we start the discussion.”

It comes as health leaders warned strikes “can’t become business as usual” for the NHS.

The latest round of strike action is expected to lead to tens of thousands of appointments, procedures and operations being postponed.

A protest over pay was held outside Downing Street on Thursday afternoon.

Dr Marie Tolan, from the West Midlands, criticised the “contempt shown by this government to doctors” and said “our profession has been undermined by those prioritising politics over patients”.

“I’m angry that doctors apologise to patients every single day for substandard care,” she told the crowd.

“I’m angry because I’m not worth 26% less than a doctor in 2008, I’m angry for all of the great doctors that have left this country never to return.

“Because you can’t run a healthcare service without staff and you certainly can’t run a healthcare service without doctors – the good will is gone.”

In comments released to the PA news agency, Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “We can’t go on like this. Strikes can’t become ‘business as usual’ for the NHS and patients.

“It’s vital that the next government and junior doctors reset industrial relationships and prevent any more walkouts.

“Preparing for strikes, keeping patients safe throughout them, and having to rebook thousands of treatments takes an enormous amount of time.

“Failure to resolve the dispute means more disruption for patients and staff, with more operations, scans and other care postponed on top of the 1.5 million already hit by industrial action across the NHS.”

The BMA’s junior doctors committee has said Labour remarks on how raising pay will be a “journey and not an event” align with its wage restoration goals.

Junior doctors in England have said their pay has been cut by more than a quarter over the last 15 years and have called for a 35% increase.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting has said he would not meet the 35%, saying if he gave in to the demand then “any trade union worth their salt” would come back the following year with the same request.

He has said there is “space for a discussion” on pay, as well as negotiations on how to improve working conditions for medics in training.

A group of junior doctors, wearing BMA hats and holding placards calling for pay restoration, on a picket line, with Big Ben in the background
Junior doctors, joined by a Just Eat delivery courier, right, on the picket line outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

The latest walkout marks the 11th strike by junior doctors in England since their dispute began some 20 months ago.

NHS leaders have raised concerns about the “major disruption” the strike will cause in the aftermath of a heatwave which prompted a yellow “heat-health alert” across much of the country.

Asked about talks with Mr Streeting, Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairman of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said: “He is talking about things like ‘journey, not an event’ – we’re happy to have a multi-year pay deal. He has seemingly heard that and (his remark of) ‘journey, not an event’ matches that.”

Dr Vivek Trivedi, committee co-chair, added: “The main thing that I’ve taken away from discussions is that there does seem like there is a willingness to try and at least engage in constructive and meaningful (talks).”

The BMA’s chairman of council, Professor Philip Banfield, said: “We have met with Labour several times over the last two years – we haven’t always agreed, we’ve had disagreements. So, do I expect the conversation to take place? Yes. Do I expect that conversation to be one that is easy or tough? It’ll be a tough conversation.”

Jeremy Corbyn among a group of junior doctors and media crew, outside a hospital
Jeremy Corbyn, left, joined the picket line at St Thomas’ Hospital in London (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Last year, the Government accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review bodies in full, which saw junior doctors receive a pay rise of between 8.1% and 10.3%. This was the most generous workforce settlement in the private sector.

“There is Cabinet Office guidance determining what is appropriate Government behaviour during the pre-election period. In line with the guidance, it would not be appropriate for Government to make a pay offer. The BMA know this but have refused to call off the strikes.

“The deals brokered with the consultant and SAS doctors committees show that we will always act in good faith to end disputes. Before the election was called, we had entered into negotiations with the junior doctors’ committee overseen by an external mediator.

“We commit to getting back into the negotiating room immediately after the election and seek to reach a similar resolution with junior doctors.”

Junior doctors make up half of the medical workforce and their last walkout in February led to 91,048 appointments, procedures and operations being cancelled.

The latest strike started at 7am on Thursday and ends on Tuesday.

Stella Vig, NHS England’s national clinical director for elective care, said: “With the weekend approaching, ongoing strike action will continue to cause disruption – but we want to assure patients that staff are working extremely hard to prioritise urgent and emergency care.

“Though the warm weather is subsiding, the NHS still faces significant pressure, with industrial action adding to already record demand at A&Es.

“Patients should continue using services as they would normally, by using 999 in life-threatening emergencies and NHS 111 – on the NHS App, online, or by phone – for other health concerns.

“GP services and pharmacies are also available for patients and can be accessed in the usual way. Patients who haven’t been contacted or informed that their planned appointment has been postponed should attend as normal.”