Junior doctors in England to strike for three days in March

Junior doctors in England are to strike for three days next month in the increasingly bitter dispute over pay, it has been announced.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said the doctors had “no option” and would strike from March 13, having voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action earlier this month.

The BMA said that junior doctors have called on Health Secretary Steve Barclay twice in the past week to meet with them urgently, but added that no date had been set.

A meeting with Department of Health civil servants earlier this week yielded nothing in terms of meaningful progress, said the BMA, adding that the minister had refused to attend.

UK strikes in February & March
(PA Graphics)

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor warned the health service would struggle to cope in the face of the walkout.

“This is news NHS leaders were dreading. I think this action will be extremely difficult for us to manage,” he told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.

“We are going to have to – as we did in the last junior doctors’ strike – ask consultants to take on a greater load.

“The problem is the consultants themselves are having an indicative ballot, so it is very unclear the degree to which consultants will necessarily be willing to fill in for junior doctors.

“If you take out 40% of the medical workforce, it is going to have a huge impact.”

The co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, said patients and public alike need to know the blame for the strike action “lies squarely at the Government’s door”.

They said: “Make no mistake, this strike was absolutely in the Government’s gift to avert; they know it, we know it and our patients also need to know it.

“We have tried, since last summer, to get each Health Secretary we have had round the negotiating table. We have written many times and, even as late as yesterday, we were hopeful Steve Barclay would recognise the need to meet with us to find a workable solution that could have averted this strike.

“We have not been told why we have not been offered intensive negotiations nor what we need to do for the government to begin negotiations with us. We are left with no option but to proceed with this action.

“The fact that so many junior doctors in England have voted yes for strike action should leave Ministers in absolutely no doubt what we have known for a long time and have been trying to tell them, we are demoralised, angry and no longer willing to work for wages that have seen a real terms decline of over 26% in the past 15 years.

“This, together with the stress and exhaustion of working in an NHS in crisis, has brought us to this moment, brought us to a 72-hour walk out.

“How, in all conscience, can the Health Secretary continue to put his head in the sand and hope that by not meeting with us, this crisis of his Government’s making, will somehow just disappear?

“It won’t, and patients and the public will continue to feel the brunt of his inaction, until he starts to negotiate with us and we agree a deal that truly values junior doctors and pays us what we are worth.”

The British Dental Association announced that dentists working in hospitals employed under the junior contract will join the 72-hour walkout after voting for industrial action.

British Dental Association chairman Eddie Crouch said: “This small but important group of dentists are working to the same contracts as their medical colleagues, and like them are not worth a penny less than they were 15 years ago.

“Our members will down drills until the government comes back to the table with a serious offer.”

Miriam Deakin, director of policy at NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders are deeply concerned by the details of the BMA junior doctors’ 72-hour strike next month.

“The possibility of a full stoppage of work by striking junior doctors in this period, including nights and on-call shifts, will have significant ramifications for patient care.

“The effects will also be compounded by the HCSA junior doctors’ strike and hot on the heels of walkouts by ambulance workers.

“This unprecedented scale of industrial action in the NHS threatens to cause serious disruption to patients, which is the last thing anyone wants. It will also likely hamper the hard efforts of NHS staff to tackle backlogs and meet elective targets.

“We understand junior doctors feel they’ve been pushed to this point by factors including below-inflation pay uplifts and the vast workforce shortages.

“As ever, trust leaders will be working flat out to ensure disruption is minimised on strike dates, but they desperately need action on a national level to bring this to an end.

“We’re encouraged by the Government opening talks with the RCN on pay, but it’s clear these negotiations need to take place immediately and with all other striking unions.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing union members have voted for strike action.

“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.

“I’ve met with the BMA and other medical unions to discuss what is fair and affordable, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload.

“I’ve written to the BMA to arrange a meeting and want to continue discussing how we can make the NHS a better place to work for all.”