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NHS strike action: Junior doctors announce fresh extended walkout - triggering blame game

Junior doctors will go on strike again later this month for almost five days as their bitter pay dispute with the government descended into recrimination.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said ministers had "failed to meet the deadline to put an improved pay offer on the table".

Hitting back, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins accused union leaders of being unreasonable.

Thousands of medics will now go on strike in England from 7am on 24 February until 11.59pm on 28 February.

The BMA has also not ruled out further strike action.

Junior doctors in England staged the longest strike in NHS history last month, for six full days from 3 January to 9 January, sparking warnings over the threat to patient safety.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs, Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, said in a statement: "We have made every effort to work with the government in finding a fair solution to this dispute whilst trying to avoid strike action.

"Even yesterday, we were willing to delay further strike action in exchange for a short extension of our current strike mandate.

"Had the health secretary agreed to this, an act of good faith on both sides, talks could have gone ahead without more strikes.

"Sadly, the government declined.

"The glacial speed of progress with the government is frustrating and incomprehensible."

They added: "From the very start of the industrial action, we have been clear that there is no need for strike action as long as substantial progress is made, and we remain willing to carry on talking and to cancel the forthcoming strikes if significant progress is made and a credible offer is put forward. "

The BMA said the fresh round of strikes would be the last on their current mandate with members but "we are already balloting for six months more".

'Enormous pressure on NHS'

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said: "I want to find a reasonable solution that ends strike action.

"This action called by the BMA junior doctors 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."

She added: "I want to focus on cutting waiting times for patients rather than industrial action.

"We have been making progress with waiting lists falling for three months in a row.

"Five days of action will put enormous pressure on the NHS and is not in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

"To make progress I ask the junior doctor's committee to cancel their action and come back to the table to find a way forward for patients and our NHS."