Junior doctors in England have begun their fifth round of strikes, with some new doctors taking to picket lines just days after starting their first NHS jobs.
Foundation Year 1 doctors started their first roles after medical school on Wednesday 2 August – just nine days ago. Now they are to walk out with colleagues for four full days amid the bitter dispute with the Government over pay.
Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the British Medical Association's junior doctors committee, said: "We are now at the stage where a whole new cohort of junior doctors is entering the profession, only to be immediately given no choice by the Government but to go on strike for their future." They added that the BMA's "door remains open for talks at any time" with the Government.
Concerns have also been mounting over the impact of the strike after a High Court ruling which means the NHS cannot seek support from agency staff, as was the case during previous strikes. The ruling in July concluded that employers could not use agency workers to fill in for striking staff.
While the NHS can use its own bank staff, NHS England pointed to the "additional challenge" posed to the service during this round of strikes. It comes after data published by NHS England on Thursday revealed waiting lists climbed to a record high of 7.57 million at the end of June.
Postponed and Cancelled Appointments
NHS representatives have expressed dismay over the ongoing fallout from industrial action. So far, almost 835,000 appointments have been postponed as a result of industrial action since December across the health service in England, according to NHS figures.
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning about the short-term impact of the strikes: "Significant number of patient procedures, appointments having to be postponed and rearranged and that will create a significant number of all of those to be cancelled and rearranged which adds to the total so far of around 800,000. So, it's likely we are going to be moving up towards a million mark in terms of the overall impact of strikes."
Pay Award is "Final": Health Secretary
England's Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay, warned that patients are "bearing the brunt of the impact of continuous strikes" and the latest spell "will cause more appointments and procedures to be postponed". He added: "My door is always open to discuss how to improve doctors' working lives, but this pay award is final, so I urge the BMA to end its strikes immediately."
The Department of Health and Social Care said that the pay rise given to junior doctors — a 6% rise along with an additional consolidated £1250 increase, which the Government describes as an "average increase of around 8.8%" — was "fair and reasonable" and "above what most in the public and private sectors are receiving".
However, Dr Naru Narayanan, president of hospital doctors' union the HCSA, said the Government had adopted "a very misleading line on pay".
"These strikes have never been just about the 2022-3 pay award. They're about tackling the 13 years of pay erosion which are affecting staffing and patient care.
"I'm afraid the Government seems lost in a fantasy land where it is fooling itself that refusing to talk will somehow end the dispute. It's an absolute tragedy for our patients and our NHS."
The latest round of strike action from BMA junior doctors will end at 7am on Tuesday 15 August.