Hospitals in England face a 72-hour walkout by junior doctors in March if industrial action is backed in next week's ballot.
The full walkout could see junior doctors refusing to provide emergency care during dates yet to be announced. The British Medical Association (BMA) said there was still time to avert a strike but that the Government's refusal so far to meet for talks made attempts to find a negotiated settlement "virtually impossible".
NHS Providers described the prospect of strike action as "deeply worrying" and renewed its appeal for the Government and union leaders to meet for discussions.
Balloting for industrial action by junior doctors across England begins on Monday 9 January.
'Unjustifiable' Pay Cut
In a statement this morning, Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee, said: "The Prime Minister says his door, and that of the Health Secretary, are 'always open'. This simply is not true. All our calls to meet, and letters to the Health Secretary and his immediate predecessors, have been ignored."
The Association has demanded pay for junior doctors be restored to the equivalent levels of 2008 to 2009. It claims that junior doctor pay has been in decline for the last 15 years, amounting to a "staggering and unjustifiable" real terms cut of 26.1%.
Junior doctors' pay was excluded from the last financial settlement for health workers because of a multiple year pay deal agreed in 2019 which guaranteed them a 2% pay rise until 2023. The agreement also included a further 3.3% across the lifetime of the deal that included a new pay point for trainees at ST6 and above, an uplift to weekend allowances, and a £1000 allowance for those working less than full time. The BMA has argued that the deal predated the COVID-19 pandemic and soaring inflation and said thousands of its members faced "dire" financial difficulties.
"Junior doctors are not worth a quarter less than they were 15 years ago, nor do they deserve to be valued so little by their own Government," said Dr Trivedi and Dr Laurenson. "Pay erosion, exhaustion, and despair are forcing junior doctors out of the NHS, pushing waiting lists even higher as patients suffer needlessly." The situation had left the BMA "no choice but to ballot for industrial action", they insisted.
Strike Would Affect Emergency Care
A walkout by junior doctors would leave NHS trusts having to find alternative cover during a winter that has already seen huge demand on emergency care. The NHS Confederation warned this week that trusts were likely to declare further critical incidents over the next 3 months, resulting in care being "compromised". Its chief executive, Mathew Taylor, said health leaders were "doing all they can" but it was only "crisis management". He urged the Government to make a start on tackling the crisis by "negotiating with the unions on pay so we can avoid more damaging strike action when services will be at its most fraught".
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this week that the NHS was on his list of five key priorities this year. In a speech on Wednesday he promised "a reasonable dialogue" with unions seeking better pay and said his Government would set out next steps in the coming days.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, said: "Trust leaders are very concerned about the possibility of prolonged or co-ordinated strike action by health unions in the coming months. They also understand the factors that have driven junior doctors and other healthcare workers to ballot on industrial action.
"We are reiterating our plea to both the Government and union leaders to get around the table and find an agreed solution, including on pay, as soon as possible. Prolonged action is something everyone wants to avoid."