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Junior doctor strike vote result expected as medics condemn ‘thoughtless’ Sunak

The result of a ballot of junior doctors for strikes over pay will be announced on Monday as waves of industrial action continue to sweep the country.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has balloted around 45,000 of its members in England, with expectations of a big vote in favour of walkouts.

The BMA has already warned it will stage a three-day strike if there is a Yes vote.

The BMA’s most senior doctor accused the Prime Minister of being “thoughtless and bellicose” in his refusal to find a workable agreement with NHS staff over pay and conditions.

Speaking at a young doctors’ conference in Bristol, Professor Philip Banfield, the BMA’s chair of council, said Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay are “standing on the precipice of an historic mistake”.

He said that refusing to enter meaningful negotiations with trade unions means the Government is “guaranteeing escalation”, while thinking they can stay silent and wait it out is “reckless”.

Prof Banfield said junior doctors deserve better and are not expensive for the expertise and skills they provide.

He accused the Government of “letting patients down”, adding: “All NHS staff are standing up for our patients in a system that seems to have forgotten that valuing staff and their well-being is directly linked to patient safety and better outcomes of care.”

Meanwhile, striking nurses will be paid 60% more by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) than during previous walkouts, it has been revealed.

The RCN also disclosed that it has received £250,000 in donations from the public since starting its strike action for more pay in December.

The union is increasing the day rate for those on the picket line from £50 to £80.

Nurses who have already gone on strike for four days will get £120 a day as the RCN dips into a £50 million fighting fund before an unprecedented full 48-hour walkout on March 1.

The daily take-home pay of a nurse on the average salary of £36,000 is about £135, assuming a four-day working week.

A typical nurse who took part in all six strike days, plus the two in March, could in theory claim £540 in strike pay – but will have lost £1,080.

The RCN said the move is aimed at shoring up nurses’ resolve and to undermine the Government’s strategy to “wait out the strikes rather than negotiate”.

Public support for striking nurses remains the highest of any striking workforce, said the RCN.

The union said the decision to include emergency services, cancer care and other previously exempt services has rocked NHS managers, who are calling on the Government to settle the dispute or risk waiting times rising significantly as tens of thousands of operations are cancelled.

Hospital trusts have been told to submit a risk assessment of next month’s strikes to NHS England by midday on Monday.

The RCN’s decision to escalate its strikes to 128 NHS organisations – about half of the country’s total – has left some in the union suffering “sleepless nights”.

One insider said some NHS trusts had switched surgery lists from routine patients to cancer patients, meaning staff could not walk out.

Hospitals were also insisting on staffing levels for strike days that are not achieved on normal days.

The RCN will open talks with the NHS this week to settle how exactly the strikes will work. It said longer strikes are possible and it could re-ballot in hospitals that did not vote for strikes last time.

Pat Cullen
Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said the Government can avert the latest strikes with negotiations (PA)

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: “We have been overcome by the public’s support at every stage of our campaign to pay nurses fairly and safely staff our NHS.

“They’ve been with us on picket lines, sent messages of support and – in the most difficult of times – donated from their own pockets so nursing staff can stand up for what’s right.

“There isn’t a person in this country whose life hasn’t been impacted by a nurse and that’s why the public are with us every step of the way.

“We will continue to fight for fair pay so there are enough nursing staff to make sure patients get the care and treatment they deserve.

“It is time for Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to hear what the British people are telling them – they want a resolution and so do we.

“These strikes do not need to go ahead if the Government just comes to the negotiating table.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and we have been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of our main priorities.

“As part of a multi-year deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2% since 2019/20. We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.

“The Health and Social Care Secretary has met with the BMA and other medical unions to discuss pay, conditions and workload. He’s been clear he wants to continue discussing how we can make the make the NHS a better place to work for all.”