BMA accused of wanting stunts not talks after cold-calling Health Secretary during strikes

Junior doctors on strike outside Queen’s Hospital, in Romford - John Keeble/Getty Images Europe
Junior doctors on strike outside Queen’s Hospital, in Romford - John Keeble/Getty Images Europe

The British Medical Association has been accused of wanting “stunts not talks” after turning up at government buildings during junior doctors' strikes.

On Wednesday, the strikes will enter a third day, with warnings from NHS chiefs that knock-on effects, including delays discharging patients from hospital are likely to worsen as the week goes on.

Dr Robert Laurenson, co-chairman of the BMA junior doctors committee, posted “selfies” outside the Department of Health and Social Care and Cabinet Office as tens of thousands of medics took part in walkouts.

The medic said he made the visit to government buildings after being told the Health Secretary was keen to negotiate - only to find he was out.

In a post on Twitter, Dr Laurensen said: “I heard @stevebarclay wanted to urgently negotiate on sky news. Weird cause I didn’t get an email inviting me. So I went to DHSC and the Cabinet office but unfortunately Steve was out. Steve says one thing but wants another. He wants these strikes.”

Yesterday, the BMA was accused of being “more interested in stunts than talks,” by a Whitehall source, who pointed out that the Health Secretary was in negotiations with other health unions while medics were posing for the pictures.

The Health Secretary is in the second week of intensive negotiations with unions representing nurses and ambulance workers.

On Friday, Steve Barclay urged the BMA to take part in pay negotiations - on the same basis of that being offered to other health unions.

However, medics rejected the offer, saying that the minister was insisting on “pre-conditions” including wanting to limit discussions to a “one-off bonus” rather than examine “15 years of pay erosion”.

A Whitehall source said: “It’s hard to understand what they are playing at, they are basically saying they won’t agree to talks unless it’s about looking at back pay for 15 years. The offer to talk is there, Steve has written to them to make that clear, but instead they are more interested in pulling stunts.”

On Tuesday, Dr  Laurenson and fellow co-chair Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “We remain open to entering talks with the Government anytime and anywhere to bring this dispute to a swift resolution and restore the pay that junior doctors have lost.

'Putting up barriers'

“If the Health Secretary is truly committed to this, then he needs to drop these unreasonable pre-conditions and begin proper negotiations with us. It is Steve Barclay who is stopping talks happening by putting up barriers he knows our members cannot accept. The preconditions go against the very thing junior doctors are in dispute over.”

The union said membership has surged, with an extra 17,000 medics joining since the start of this year, after the BMA proposed strikes.

Meanwhile, NHS chiefs warned that some A&Es have been deluged by demand, as crippling strikes take effect, amid widespread cancellations of operations and appointments.

NHS national medical director, Prof Sir Stephen Powis, said units were under “severe pressure” and prioritising urgent and critical care, with patients advised to turn to GP surgeries, pharmacies and 111 online where possible.

Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “Some hospitals even saw their busiest Monday of the year so far for A&E attendance as the strike got underway yesterday, which presents a major challenge as our staff continue to do all they can to mitigate the impact of the industrial action for patients.”