The BMA announced dates for a 72-hour walk out by junior doctors in England, with the doctor's union saying that Health Secretary Steve Barclay had left the with "no choice" when he did not attend a meeting last week to discuss pay. The 3-day industrial action will begin on 13 March.
The decision to strike was voted on by nearly 40,000 junior doctors. The BMA said that it asked the Health Secretary to meet "urgently" twice last week, "but so far no date is forthcoming". The union did meet with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) last week, but Mr Barclay did not attend the meeting. They said the meeting "yielded nothing in terms of meaningful progress" and that the Health Secretary "refused to attend".
Co-Chairs of the BMA junior doctors' committee, Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: "Make no mistake, this strike was absolutely in the Government's gift to avert; they know it, we know it and our patients also need to know it.
"We have tried, since last summer, to get each Health Secretary we have had, round the negotiating table. We have written many times, and even as late as yesterday [23 March] we were hopeful Steve Barclay would recognise the need to meet with us to find a workable solution that could have averted this strike."
They said the results of the ballot should be evidence enough that junior doctors are serious about striking.
"The fact that so many junior doctors in England have voted yes for strike action should leave Ministers in absolutely no doubt what we have known for a long time and have been trying to tell them, we are demoralised, angry, and no longer willing to work for wages that have seen a real-terms decline of over 26% in the past 15 years.
"This, together with the stress and exhaustion of working in an NHS in crisis, has brought us to this moment, brought us to a 72-hour walk out.
Pay Review Recommends 3.5% Pay Rise
Meanwhile, late last week the DHSC releases evidence to the Review Body on Doctors' and Dentists' Remuneration (DDRB) for the 2023 to 2024 pay round, recommending a pay rise "up to 3.5%".
The BMA released a statement saying that pay recommendation was "more than just insulting" and warned that if Ministers want to avert junior doctors' strike action, there would need to be the prospect of a "realistic pay offer" and "3.5% is nowhere near that".
The evidence, whose publication was delayed for 6 weeks, comes despite numerous warnings of the parlous state of junior doctors' finances. At 3.5%, the recommendation is level with the latest Bank of England base rate – the highest in 14 years and recently increased in the attempt to restrain inflation – and "broadly in line" with analogous median private sector pay settlements, the DHSC said.
It added: "Evidence also suggests that medical grades have retained their position within the overall income distribution."
Explaining the background, the DHSC said: "In the challenging economic and fiscal context in which pay recommendations will be made this year, decisions on pay awards will have a particular impact on the spending review settlement and the commitments made within it."
The lingering effects of pandemic measures, "higher than previously forecast" inflation, and energy prices "have increased the costs of delivering services and the financial pressures systems are facing", the Department said.
In addition, last year's pay award was "significantly above the Government's affordability envelope". Therefore, NHS England (NHSE) was "undergoing significant reprioritisation".
Higher Pay Rises 'Would Require Trade-offs' on Services or Borrowing
Pay rises above the 3.5% limit "would require trade-offs for public service delivery or further Government borrowing", it cautioned. The vast size of the NHS workforce "makes the impact of pay pressures correspondingly greater" and "pay rises above what has been provisioned" would have "a material impact on delivery of the government's commitments" as well as "further reprioritisation" when "NHS budgets are already tight".
The DHSC's submission to the DDRB for the 2023 to 2024 pay round is subject to the Board's consideration and Ministerial review. The DDRB recommendations cover uplifts for consultants, doctors and dentists in training, and the minimum and maximum pay ranges for salaried general medical practitioners, as well as the pay element of remuneration for dentists employed by, or providing services to, the NHS. They do not cover pay recommendations for contractor general medical practitioners.
The DHSC explained that this was because DDRB pay has already been agreed through a 5-year investment agreement between NHS England and the BMA. "As independent contractors, it is for GP contractors to determine uplifts in pay for themselves and their employees," the Agency said.
In addition, for specialty doctors and associate specialists (SAS), a multi-year pay and contract reform deal was agreed with the BMA in 2020. As SAS doctors were given the choice to transfer over to the new contract, the DDRB has been asked to make a recommendation on pay for 2023 to 2024 only for SAS doctors who chose not to transfer.
NHS Staff Using Food Banks
The BMA's Chair of Council, Professor Philip Banfield, said: "With inflation running at over 10% and some NHS staff having to make use of food banks, for the Government to recommend such a low future pay offer and nothing on back pay, is far more than just insulting. It not only fails to take account of the years of pay erosion – with some doctors having experienced real terms pay cuts of up to 35% – but such a paltry uplift may mean many NHS workers simply won't be able to afford to stay in the job.
"Countries like Australia are actively recruiting our doctors and other healthcare workers for jobs with far better pay, terms and conditions and a pay offer like this will do nothing to stem that outflow.
"The offer is also significantly lower than regular pay growth in the private sector which most recent data, shows to be at 6.7%.
"Now, more than ever, we need to see the pay review bodies show themselves to be truly independent of Government interference and to recommend an appropriate deal that takes account of pay erosion as well as future pay."