Junior doctors will join the tidal wave of striking workers in the UK with a 72-hour walkout if they vote in favour of industrial action, their union said.
The British Medical Association is holding a ballot of some members who are calling for a pay rise amid the cost of living crisis.
Junior doctors – qualified medical practitioners working while engaged in postgraduate training – in England will begin their action with a three-day “full walkout” in March if members are in favour, the BMA has told the government.
The trade union, which represents doctors and medical students, is urging Health Secretary Steve Barclay to meet with representative to negotiate a solution to avoid the action.
The BMA said he is the first person to hold the office for over 50 years to continue to “ignore” all invitations from the union to meet with doctors to discuss their pay, making attempts to find a negotiated settlement “virtually impossible”.
Mr Barclay caused anger among striking nurses’ unions when he said they had made a “conscious decision” to “inflict harm” on NHS patients. Ministers are also under pressure to reach deals with striking rail staff, ambulance workers, teachers, driving examiners and Border Force staff.
The BMA’s ballot for junior doctors across England will begin on Monday.
Successive governments have overseen 15 years of real terms pay cuts for junior doctors in England, which amounts to a “staggering and unjustifiable” 26.1 per cent decline in pay since 2008/09, the BMA said.
Patients are suffering and over-worked staff are being burned out and even leaving the NHS as a result of the pressure, the union said, adding that the Conservative government “fails to see the crisis in front of it”.
Nurses go on strike in the UK - in pictures
Ministers were accused of ignoring all the evidence to the contrary and preferring to treat the public as “fools” with assurances that the NHS has all the resources it needs.
The government’s door was “firmly shut to dialogue”, let alone negotiations, so there was no other option left than to ballot junior doctors in England for strike action, the BMA stressed.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week said the government’s door is always open for discussions with unions.
But doctors say they have not been given hope from the government’s stance and have no choice but to strike, if members back the action.
Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: “The Prime Minister says his door and that of the Health Secretary, are ‘always open’.
“But after more than a decade of pay cuts no offer to restore our pay has been made, and all our calls to meet, and letters to the Health Secretary and his immediate predecessors, have been ignored.
“When we are faced with such resolute ongoing silence, and there is no agreed settlement on the table, then we are left with no choice but to act.
“Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own government.
“Pay erosion, exhaustion and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly.
“The government’s refusal to address 15 years of pay erosion has given junior doctors no choice but to ballot for industrial action.
“If the government won’t fight for our health service, then we will.”
Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, said the BMA’s plan for junior doctors to strike “with no emergency cover if a ballot is successful, is deeply worrying”.
“Trust leaders are very concerned about the possibility of prolonged or co-ordinated strike action by health unions in the coming months,” she said.
“They also understand the factors that have driven junior doctors and other healthcare workers to ballot on industrial action.
“We are reiterating our plea to both the government and union leaders to get around the table and find an agreed solution, including on pay, as soon as possible.
“Prolonged action is something everyone wants to avoid.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The Health and Social Care Secretary has been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of his key priorities, and that includes our hard-working junior doctors.
“Our multi-year pay deal with the British Medical Association is increasing junior doctor’s pay by a cumulative 8.2 per cent by 2023. We have also invested an additional £90 million to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increased allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends, and increased rates of pay for night shifts.
“There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS, and we are committed to publishing a comprehensive workforce strategy next year.”