Junior doctors in England are to stage a 5-day strike next month in a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the Government over pay and staffing.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) will walk out from 13-18 July in what the association said is thought to be the longest single period of industrial action in the history of the health service.
The announcement was made as a BMA survey showed that junior doctors report being inundated with more opportunities to move abroad in the last 4 months than ever before. Just over half of the nearly 2000 junior doctors surveyed said they have received more job advertisements from recruiters to overseas jobs since strikes were announced. The government of South Australia even paid for trucks to be sent to junior doctor picket lines carrying job adverts offering improved pay if those doctors emigrated, it was revealed.
Co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: "The NHS is one of this country’s proudest achievements and it is shameful that we have a Government seemingly content to let it decline to the point of collapse with decades of real-terms pay cuts to doctors driving them away."
No New Talks Underway
Reminding the Government of the upcoming 75th birthday of the NHS on 5 July, Drs Laurenson and Vivek said "neglect" of its workforce has left the country with 7.4 million people on waiting lists for surgery and procedures, 8500 unfilled doctors' posts in hospitals, and doctors who "can barely walk down the road without a foreign government tempting them to leave an NHS where they are paid £14 per hour for a country which will pay them properly".
"It has been almost a week since the last round of strikes finished but not once have we heard from Rishi Sunak or Steve Barclay in terms of reopening negotiations since their collapse of our talks and cancelling all scheduled meetings a month ago," they said. "What better indication of how committed they are to ending this dispute could we have?"
The BMA survey said that more than four-fifths of junior doctors report finding their patients supportive. The BMA Scotland announced earlier this month that they were planning 3 more days of strikes from 12-15 July, and now BMA England will up that with 5 days planned.
"We are announcing the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS's history – but this is not a record that needs to go into the history books," said Drs Laurenson and Vivek. "Even now the Government can avert our action by coming to the table with a credible offer on pay restoration."
Disruption to the NHS
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: "Trust leaders, staff and patients will have that sinking feeling at the prospect of 5 straight days of strike disruption, the longest-ever single period of industrial action in the history of the NHS.
"After a 3-day walkout by junior doctors already this month, forcing more than 100,000 more procedures and appointments to be rescheduled (more than 651,000 in total since December) and with nurses, radiographers, and consultants – who could strike for 2 days in July – being balloted too, this figure is bound to rise by many thousands more.
"Trust leaders’ priority throughout any industrial action will remain to keep patients safe and deliver high-quality care but this is getting tougher the longer strikes persist, and it’s getting more and more expensive to find cover for staff on picket lines."
Sir Julian urged the Government and unions to "break the deadlock" and enter arbitration to find a resolution. "This can’t go on and become 'business as usual'," he added.
Downing Street said the planned strike action is concerning.
Government: BMA Decision 'Extremely Disappointing'
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: "It puts patient safety and our efforts to cut waiting lists at risk. It is obviously extremely disappointing.
"In the meeting the Government had with junior doctors, we made a fair and reasonable opening offer," he said. "We were discussing both pay and non-pay issues. But they chose to end the talks by announcing new strike dates.
"Obviously if they cancel the damaging and disruptive strikes and show willingness to move away from their starting positions and find a way forward, then we will be able to proceed with those discussions," he added.
The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) said its members working as junior doctors in England will also strike from July 13 to 18. Its Junior Doctors Committee co-chairman Dr Karim Salem said: "The Government’s response to our repeated attempts to find a fair settlement has been to hope we just go away, but junior doctors aren’t going anywhere, and we won’t be silenced.
"We shouldn’t have been driven to this point, and there’s still time to avoid these strikes," Dr Salem said. "Junior doctors, our senior colleagues, NHS trust leaders, our patients – everyone is telling the Government the same thing. They need to get serious, get round the table and end this dispute."
Kate Nowicki, director of dispute resolution at the conciliation service ACAS, said: "We have a team of experts who are well prepared and ready to help with the junior doctors' dispute.
"ACAS has decades of experience in resolving disputes and our collective conciliation service is impartial, free, and independent. It is also voluntary, which means we can only hold formal conciliation talks when all the parties in dispute agree that the time is right for conciliation.
"An independent survey this year showed that both employers and employees overwhelming want the various sides involved in strike action to seek mediation from ACAS to resolve their dispute," she added.