BMA chairman expects junior doctors to vote for strike next week

Junior doctors on strike in 2016  (PA)
Junior doctors on strike in 2016 (PA)

The chairman of the British Medical Association council said he expects junior doctors to vote for strike action in March when a ballot opens on Monday.

Professor Phil Banfield said the BMA felt its members would give a “positive response” to the proposal of a 72-hour strike announced earlier on Friday.

A strike by junior doctors would mark only the second time they have staged strikes in a decade.

They will not provide emergency care if strike action does take place and individual NHS trusts will need to arrange cover to ensure patient safety, the BMA said.

It sets the union apart from the Royal College of Nursing, who have not withdrawn emergency care despite taking strike action.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme if he is expecting the strike to be voted for, Professor Phil Banfield said: “Yes. We have done a lot of preparation and research and we wouldn’t be balloting unless we felt that a positive response was going to be the result.”

He added: “It’s in the gift of the Government to head this off and we would hope that they would see sense and attempt to do so.”

Addressing safety, he said: “More senior doctors, so consultants and specialists doctors will be providing that emergency cover, and the evidence would suggest that the service and the risk to patients actually reduces on those kind of strike days.”

“I think the gap between us and the employers is very narrow. The chasm is between us and the Government, which has had years of sub-inflationary pay recommendations sanctioned by the pay review body, which is anything but independent,” he said.

Nurses and paramedics have already staged strike action last month, though Health Secretary Steve Barclay has repeatedly refused to discuss pay with either union.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) will walk out again on January 18 and 19 while Unite and Unison ambulance workers will stage a strike on January 23.

Unison and the GMB are also holding a joint ambulance strike next Wednesday.

In a statement released on Friday, the BMA said successive governments have overseen 15 years of real-term pay cuts for junior doctors in England, which amounts to a “staggering and unjustifiable” 26.1 per cent decline in pay since 2008/09.

It said patients were suffering and exhausted staff were leaving the NHS but the Government “fails to see the crisis in front of it”.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) staged two days of strike action last month and will walk out again on January 18 and 19, as London hospitals face their worst-ever winter crisis amid flu cases, staff sickness and industrial action.

The latest figures showed more than 1,800 ambulances in the capital faced a delay of over 60 minutes when handing over a patient to A&E in the week up to January 1. This is a rise of 29 per cent on the week before.