NHS consultants and junior doctors in England have started their longest ever joint strike action in an escalation of their long running pay row with the government.
It is reported that more than one million appointments have had to be rescheduled since consultants and junior doctors began their strike action earlier this year. In August, it was revealed that the cost of the strike had already exceeded the medics’ pay demand.
Industrial action in September saw consultants and junior doctors take joint action for 24 hours for the first time in NHS history when their strike days overlapped. That resulted in almost 130,000 patient appointments needing to be rescheduled and chaos in England’s hospitals.
The scale of this month’s joint strike is unprecedented in NHS history. Consultants and junior doctors began their three-day combined industrial action at 7am today (October 2). They will provide emergency care staff – referred to as Christmas Day cover – until the same time on Thursday.
NHS bosses claim a letter sent by the British Medical Association (BMA) has demanded hospital chiefs confirm they have “cancelled all elective care” during the strike days. NHS leaders said the letter implies that ”unless employers confirm the cancellation of electives, Christmas Day cover would be withdrawn in favour of a full walkout”.
Consultants and junior doctors are striking over the pay rise imposed by the government – 6% for consultants and up to 8.8% for junior doctors (depending on experience). This is far short of what the BMA is demanding – a full pay restoration to pre-austerity 2008-09 levels to make up for what has been eroded.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the government has offered an above inflation pay rise, adding, “It wasn’t the government’s suggestion, it was a suggestion that came from an independent pay review body.”
Deputy chair of the BMA consultants committee, Dr Helen Neary told Times Radio that consultants are asking “for fairness in pay” that has been “has been eroded by over a third” since 2009.
Neary said they also want “reform of our independent review body as they should be the ones who should be setting what pay doctors should get, and the government has continued to interfere with that process.”
She added: “Yes, doctors are paid well, consultants do have a good salary, however… in real terms compared to 2008, doctors are working for free in effect for four months of the year.”
The strike impacting England could soon spread to Northern Ireland where 77% of consultants have expressed their willingness to take industrial action, according to the BMA. Junior doctors last week announced they will hold a ballot to strike over pay and “unacceptable workplace pressures”.
Chair of the Northern Ireland consultants committee Dr David Farren said “pay has fallen behind other nations,” including the Republic of Ireland, adding: “We cannot recruit or retain doctors anymore.”
Farren continued: “Goodwill is currently keeping the system running and is increasingly in short supply when Northern Ireland is not even paying the 5% to 6% uplift that colleagues in the rest of the UK are getting, despite their ongoing disputes.
“We have been told that any money that did become available would instead be used to address a budget deficit not of our making.
“Despite the fact consultants now deal with more complex cases in a much more challenging environment, whilst a crisis builds in the health service, our pay no longer reflects the level of responsibility or clinical risk we undertake every day.
“Our aim is to fix consultant pay now and for the future. This should begin with an agreement to provide an above inflationary pay award for 2023/24 and a clear pathway to restoring years of pay lost to austerity.”