Hospital consultants to be balloted over possible strike action

The most senior hospital doctors in England are to be asked whether they are prepared to go on strike, the nation’s biggest doctors’ union has announced.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced that consultants will be balloted over potential industrial action around April 17.

It comes after the BMA conducted a poll to assess whether the most senior medics in the NHS would be prepared to take action over pay and ongoing pension issues.

The consultative ballot was sent to almost 35,000 consultants and the BMA received 21,000 responses – some 86% of those who responded said they would be prepared to take part in strike action.

The BMA said that while a consultative ballot does not provide a legal mandate for strike action, the poll represents “the strength of anger among England’s senior doctors” and it will move to a statutory ballot in April.

If consultants vote in favour then strike action could take place in the spring, the BMA said.

Strike action by consultants will mean consultants will run a “bank holiday” service on weekdays ensuring that emergency or urgent care remains in place, the union added.

Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the BMA consultants committee, said: “In my 25 years in the NHS, I have never seen consultants more demoralised, frustrated and in despair over this Government’s refusal to support the NHS workforce and the patients they serve.

“The Government is refusing to listen to consultants’ concerns, driving many out of the NHS entirely.

“If the Government truly wants to get the NHS back on track and tackle the record waiting lists, it must support the consultant workforce.

“Our position is clear – we will not allow the Government to continue to degrade consultants’ pay and pensions.

“This is having a hugely detrimental impact on patient care as staffing numbers plummet and things will only worsen unless we take a stand.

“Strike action is always a last resort and we have set out a clear timeline for the Government to put a serious proposal on the table.

“Our door remains open; it is not too late to prevent consultants from acting. But if the Government refuses to propose a workable solution, our members have made it clear that they are prepared to strike.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “Confirmation that consultants have voted in favour of holding a future ballot for strike action will be concerning to health leaders.

“If this is the strength of feeling from consultants now, the worry is that some could be less inclined to cover shifts during the upcoming junior doctors’ strikes next week, leaving patient care at increased risk.

“While it is positive that the other trade unions have agreed to suspend their planned industrial action to enter negotiations with the Government, it is important for all parts of the NHS’s workforce to have the same opportunity to have their concerns around pay understood.

“The danger of not doing this is that the war of attrition between both sides will continue and escalate further, which no-one wants.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “This move by consultants is another worrying development for NHS trust leaders, on top of the looming three-day strike by junior doctors. Strikes by consultants would heap yet more pressure on overstretched services.

“Patient safety and care is the top priority. Trust leaders urge the Government and the BMA to find a resolution quickly.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of NHS consultants and they received a pay rise of 4.5% this financial year, increasing average earnings to around £128,000.

“The NHS Pension Scheme is one of the most generous available and we have taken steps to address the pension tax implications for senior clinicians. We have increased the annual allowance taper so that the amount of tax-free pension savings only reduces for individuals who earn over £200,000.

“We have submitted evidence to the independent Pay Review Body for the next financial year and we want to continue discussing with the BMA how we can make the NHS a better place to work.”

Junior doctors in England are set to stage a 72-hour walkout next week.