Longest NHS strike in history: Junior doctors walk out for five days

BMA union criticises UK government for not holding talks while strikes continue

In a continued dispute over pay in the NHS, members of the BMA in England will mount picket lines from 7am on Thursday. PA
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The longest walkout in the history of the NHS begins on Thursday, when junior doctors will launch a five-day strike.

In a continued dispute over pay in the NHS, members of the BMA in England will mount picket lines from 7am.

Members of Unite at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London will also go on strike on Thursday over pay.

BMA leaders urged the government to return to the negotiating table in a bid to resolve the long-running row, which has already led to a series of strikes and thousands of cancelled operations and consultations.

“Today marks the start of the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS’s history, but this is still not a record that needs to go into the history books,” BMA leaders Robert Laurenson and Vivek Trivedi said.

“We can call this strike off today if the UK government will simply follow the example of the government in Scotland and drop their nonsensical precondition of not talking whilst strikes are announced and produce an offer which is credible to the doctors they are speaking with.

“The pay offer on the table to junior doctors in Scotland and how it was reached throws into sharp relief the obstinate approach being taken by the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary Steve Barclay.

“The Health Secretary has said there can be no talks while strikes are planned – Scotland has proved him wrong.

“He said above 5 per cent wasn’t realistic – Scotland proved him wrong. He refused to even acknowledge the concept of pay restoration – Scotland proved this is not only possible but essential.”

The BMA leaders said talks had to be resumed and added: “The government’s refusal to talk with junior doctors in England who have strikes planned is out of keeping with all norms of industrial action.

“Doctors have a right to expect that as in Scotland, and as in many other recent industrial disputes, talks will continue right up to the last minute to try and reach a deal without the need to strike.

“The complete inflexibility we see from the UK government today is baffling, frustrating, and ultimately destructive for everyone who wants waiting lists to go down and NHS staffing numbers to go up.

“The government has missed chance after chance to provide a credible offer and potentially bring to an end the industrial action by junior doctors in England and whilst there are differences between junior doctors and governments in England and Scotland, the UK government has far more financial freedom to give doctors what they deserve.”

Junior doctors across England begin 96 hour strike – in pictures

NHS Providers has urged both sides to resume talks in a bid to head off more strikes.

“The impact of these disputes is fraying the fabric of the NHS, held together by a unique sense of commitment and shared endeavour across the workforce that has served it so well over so many years. We lose that at our peril,” deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said.

“The disruption for many thousands of patients and the potential harm of delaying their treatment is a huge and growing risk for the NHS to manage.

“Trusts will hardly have time to draw breath after a five-day walkout by junior doctors before consultants strike for two days, followed by a two-day strike by radiographers.

“The domino effect of repeated waves of industrial action is eroding the fundamental relationship between trust leaders and their staff.

“Trust leaders understand the strength of feeling among striking staff, who they value and work with for patients every day, and why they are taking action.

“Trusts will continue to do everything they can to limit disruption and keep patients safe but that’s getting harder and more expensive with every strike as the cost of hiring cover grows, and with staff dissatisfaction increasing as disputes remain unresolved.

“Eight consecutive months of industrial action across the NHS are taking their toll not just on patients, with more than 651,000 routine procedures and appointments forced to be rescheduled, but on already overstretched services – hampering efforts to cut waiting lists.”

Meanwhile, polling by YouGov showed that public support for strikes has remained consistent since the beginning of the year.

Nurses have the strongest public backing, with three in five Britons supporting them.

Ambulance workers have similar levels of support, with 58 per cent in favour and 33 per cent opposed.

“It is disappointing that the BMA is going ahead with further strike action,” Mr Barclay said.

“This five-day walkout by junior doctors will have an impact on thousands of patients, put patient safety at risk and hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists.

“We were in discussions about pay and a range of other measures to improve the working lives of junior doctors until their representatives collapsed the negotiations by announcing further strikes.

“A pay demand of 35 per cent or more is unreasonable and risks fuelling inflation, which makes everyone poorer.

“Earlier this week I held a roundtable with doctors in training to talk about other key issues that affect them so we can work together to make the NHS a better place for all.

“We recently published the first ever NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which includes measures to better support staff, improve training and double the number of medical school places by 2031.

“If the BMA shows willingness to move significantly from their current pay demands and cancels these damaging and disruptive strikes, we can get around the table to find a fair deal to resolve this dispute.”

NHS national medical director Sir Stephen Powis said: “We will now see industrial action on 11 out of the next 14 days so we are entering an incredibly busy, disruptive period for the NHS.

“While staff continue to work hard to provide patients with the care they need, the next strike is the longest and most disruptive yet, strikes have already impacted around 600,000 hospital appointments across the NHS, with tens of thousands more set to be affected in the coming weeks.

“Over the next two weeks, people should still seek the care they need as they usually would – calling 999 in life threatening emergencies but using NHS 111 online for other health concerns.

“Our staff are doing all they can, but we cannot continue like this – action is having a major impact for patients in need of routine care, and an increasing effect on NHS services and our hard-working staff as they try to maintain services and address a record backlog.”

Updated: July 12, 2023, 11:01 PM