Junior doctors deal NHS blow with March 15 walkout

Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association blames mounting workloads and falling pay for strike

Staff on an NHS hospital ward. Junior doctors in England will strike in March. PA
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Thousands of ambulance workers are staging a walkout on Monday, as junior doctors confirm they will strike next month.

More than 11,000 ambulance workers with the GMB union will take industrial action on Monday in England and Wales. They include paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers, the union said. Ambulance workers affiliated with the Unite union are also on strike.

Junior doctors in England will strike on March 15, having voted overwhelmingly in favour of a walkout last month in protest at what their union calls successive “real-terms pay cuts”.

The strikes are largely over pay and conditions, as inflation in the UK exceeds 10 per cent but pay offers do not come close to that figure.

In a vote on taking action in England conducted by the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA), 97 per cent voted in favour of the strike with 76 per cent of members taking part in the ballot.

Another 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association in England have also been balloted on strike action with the result to be announced on Monday.

The BMA's most senior doctor accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of being “thoughtless and bellicose” in his refusal to find a workable agreement with NHS staff on pay and conditions.

Speaking at a young doctors' conference in Bristol, western England, Prof Philip Banfield, the BMA's chairman of council, said Mr Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay are “standing on the precipice of an historic mistake”.

The HCSA listed a growing number of reasons for the discontent aside from a fall in real-terms pay amounting to 26 per cent cut, president Dr Naru Narayanan said.

He said the NHS is suffering a brain drain because of the crisis. According to one recent study, about 2 per cent of UK doctors leave every year in search of better working conditions overseas.

“Junior doctors are telling us that without change they will leave the NHS or leave the country entirely for better-paid medical jobs elsewhere. Our health service simply cannot afford for that to happen,” Dr Narayanan said.

He blamed the government for allowing the situation to deteriorate, despite the fact that the UK’s current health budget is significantly higher than before the coronavirus pandemic, when billions of additional funding pushed spending above £200 billion ($240.88 billion).

Health spending in the UK will reach around £180 billion this year, compared to £156 billion in the year before the pandemic, according to English charity the King’s Fund.

“Falling pay, increasing workloads and dangerous levels of understaffing have driven carers across the NHS to strike,” Dr Narayanan said. “The blame for this lies solely with a complacent government, seemingly content to let patient care suffer.”

The HCSA, which represents the whole of the UK, balloted training-grade doctors employed by NHS trusts in England.

The union previously said 397 people out of 531 who were entitled to vote took part in the ballot.

Nurses have also promised more strike days.

The Royal College of Nursing union said the decision to include emergency services, cancer care and other previously exempt services has rocked NHS managers, who are calling on the government to settle the dispute or risk waiting times rising significantly as tens of thousands of operations are cancelled.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and we have been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of our main priorities.

“As part of a multiyear deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2 per cent since 2019-2020. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary has met with the BMA and other medical unions to discuss pay, conditions and workload.

“He’s been clear he wants to continue discussing how we can make the NHS a better place to work for all.”

Also on strike are civil servants working for the Animal and Plant Health Agency and members of the Public and Commercial Services union based in Bristol and Carlisle, northern England.

Updated: February 20, 2023, 9:54 AM