The British Medical Association (BMA) union representing junior doctors appears to be taking a militant stance, according to Health Secretary Steve Barclay. Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Barclay said the union’s pay demands were “unrealistic” and would cause “maximum disruption” to both patients and other NHS staff.
Junior doctors, who are below consultant level and may have many years of experience in a hospital setting or general practice, are set to stage a four-day strike from Tuesday. The BMA is calling for a 35% pay rise to make up for 15 years of below-inflation wage rises, claiming that real terms pay has fallen by 26.1% since 2008.
Mr Barclay said the BMA’s pay demands were “out of step with pay settlements in other parts of the public sector” and that some doctors could receive an extra £20,000 a year if the demands were met. He also said he valued the important work junior doctors do every day and wanted to see a fair deal that increases their pay.
The health secretary said he could see “no prospect of getting into serious and constructive talks” unless the strike action was cancelled and the BMA changed its pay demands. He added that the four-day strike threatened to cause significantly more disruption than previous NHS walkouts, coming straight after the Easter weekend and coinciding with school holidays, Ramadan and Passover.
Health bosses have estimated that up to a quarter of a million operations and appointments could be postponed as a result of the strike. In a ballot issued in February, 98% of eligible BMA members backed strike action, on a turnout of 77%. The BMA represents 173,000 members across all parts of the United Kingdom, with a recent surge in membership due to more junior doctors joining.
Deputy chair of the BMA junior doctors committee Dr Mike Greenhalgh said falling pay had caused “a real recruitment and retention crisis” in the health service. NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis warned the strikes would create “unparalleled levels of disruption”, particularly as many staff are taking much-needed holiday following the four-day bank holiday weekend.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said the government is working with NHS England to put contingency plans in place to protect patient safety during the strike. Ahead of the strikes which begin on Tuesday, Mr Barclay had been urged to meet union representatives over the bank holiday weekend to try to resolve the issue. Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-director of the junior doctors’ committee at the BMA, said the union wanted to be sure Mr Barclay “is serious about pay erosion” – but added he is yet to put a credible offer on the table.
The upcoming strike action has raised concerns among patients and healthcare professionals alike. If you are a junior doctor with a view on the strike or a patient affected, you can share your experiences by emailing HaveYourSay@bbc.co.uk. Please include your name, age and location with any submission. You can also get in touch via WhatsApp or Twitter. The Department of Health and Social Care has said it is working with NHS England to put contingency plans in place to protect patient safety during the strike, prioritising emergency treatment, critical care, maternity and neonatal care, and trauma.