Junior doctors call five-day strike just before election

Picket line outside St Thomas' Hospital London
[PA Media]

Junior doctors in England are to stage a five-day strike in the lead-up to the election in their long-running pay dispute with the government.

British Medical Association (BMA) members will walk out from 07:00 BST on 27 June - a week before election day.

The union said it was taking action as there had been no credible new offer after fresh talks started in mid-May.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the timing of the strike "makes it look incredibly political".

In theory, negotiations could have continued during the election period, but with both ministers and civil servants occupied by the election - and the prospect of the Conservatives not being in power after 4 July - it may have been difficult to reach an agreement.

The BMA has asked for a 35% pay rise to make up for what it says is 15 years of below-inflation pay rises.

Junior doctors received a pay rise averaging nearly 9% in the last financial year.

The BMA walked out of talks last year during which an extra 3% pay rise on top was discussed.

This will be the 11th walkout by junior doctors in this dispute after their first strike in March 2023. The last one took place in February.

It will see junior doctors walk out of all services, with senior doctors having to be drafted in to provide cover.

That will cause huge disruption to elective services, such as routine operations, days before the general election.

Junior doctors represent nearly half the doctor workforce in the NHS - with two-thirds members of the BMA.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: "We made clear to the government that we would strike unless discussions ended in a credible pay offer.

"For more than 18 months we have been asking Rishi Sunak to put forward proposals to restore the pay junior doctors have lost over the past 15 years."

They added: "When we entered mediation with government this month we did so under the impression that we had a functioning government that would soon be making an offer. Clearly no offer is now forthcoming. Junior doctors are fed up and out of patience.

"Even at this late stage, Mr Sunak has the opportunity to show that he cares about the NHS and its workers."

Chart showing junior doctors basic pay at each point on the pay scale in England showing pay is 6% plus £1,250 higher in 2023-24 compared with 2022-23; starting at £32,398 for those on the bottom rung of the pay scale moving up to £63,152 for those on the top level.
[BBC]

The prime minister has suggested the BMA's announcement could be "politically motivated".

Speaking at a campaign event in Devon, he said: "It's hard to escape that conclusion, given the timing and to call a strike in an election campaign, especially as we found a constructive resolution with the remainder of the NHS workforce."

He said junior doctors had already been offered a pay deal worth "on average a 10% increase".

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "The next Labour government will negotiate with junior doctors to bring these strikes to an end."

Strike action by junior doctors has also been taking place in Northern Ireland with another walkout planned in early June.

Walkouts in Wales are on hold as talks take place.

Junior doctors have not been on strike in Scotland after they accepted a pay offer from the government there.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said the news of fresh strike action was a "worrying escalation" of the dispute.

"This strike will inevitably hit patients hard," she said.

"As always, trust leaders and their teams will do everything they can to protect patient safety.

"They will spend countless hours preparing for the walkout, which includes cancelling and rescheduling appointments. This is time they would prefer to spend improving patient care and tackling sky-high waiting lists."

Nearly 1.5 million appointments and operations have been cancelled because of strike action in the NHS in England at an estimated cost of £3bn.

Consultants, nurses and midwives alongside other non-medical staff have all accepted pay offers over the past 12 months in England.

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