Junior doctors in England vote overwhelmingly for strike action

A ballot of training-grade doctors employed by NHS trusts in England saw 97.48% vote in favour of striking (PA) (PA Wire)
A ballot of training-grade doctors employed by NHS trusts in England saw 97.48% vote in favour of striking (PA) (PA Wire)

Junior doctors in England have voted overwhelmingly for strike action, their association announced on Monday.

More than 47,600 junior doctors in England were eligible to vote in the BMA’s ballot.

Almost 37,000 votes were cast and 98 per cent of those voted in favour of strike action.

The British Medical Association said this meant this was the largest ever turnout for a ballot of doctors by the BMA and a record number of junior doctors voting for strike action.

Junior doctors in England will now prepare for a 72-hour walkout next month.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “This vote shows, without a shadow of a doubt, the strength of feeling among most of England’s junior doctors.

“We are frustrated, in despair and angry and we have voted in our thousands to say, ‘in the name of our profession, our patients, and our NHS, doctors won’t take it anymore.’

“The Government has only itself to blame, standing by in silent indifference as our members are forced to take this difficult decision.

“We have had a real-terms pay cut of more than 26 % since 2008. This year we were offered an insulting 2% pay, which means with inflation at over 10%, we are working more than a month for free.

“Added to that, ever-worsening conditions mean more doctors are being lured away from the NHS to seek better paid medical careers and quality of life elsewhere.

“There is no doubt that this is a crisis, but it is of the Government’s making – so far refusing to have any meaningful discussions with us about pay. The road to recovery must start with Ministers listening to us and paying us what we’re worth.”

Responding to the announcement, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing some 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 want to continue discussing how we can make the make the NHS a better place to work for all.”

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, stressed: “Confirmation that junior doctors will stage a three-day walkout next month is a major blow for the NHS and the people who rely on its services.

“Junior doctors represent a critical part of the NHS’s workforce spanning a huge range of specialties and services, including emergency care, so there is no doubt that these strikes will be hugely disruptive and worrying for many people.”

Hospital chiefs will seek to get consultants and other doctors to cover for junior doctors on the strike days.

“Unfortunately we are likely to still see the cancellation of many non-urgent procedures, checks and other appointments so that the most life-critical care can be prioritised,” Mr Taylor added.

He emphasised that when junior doctors last went on strike in 2016, hospitals had to cancel nearly 300,000 outpatient appointments, thousands of elective procedures had to be postponed, and many were also not scheduled on these days in anticipation.

Mr Taylor explained further: “What is perhaps most worrying is that the 72-hour walk out is the BMA’s starting position and that it has said emergency care will not be excluded: if the Government continues not to budge, the next stage of industrial action does not bear thinking about.

“The Government may have hoped that the industrial action facing the NHS would peter out. However, as the sheer scale of the BMA’s ballot outcome shows, as well as the fact that many health leaders have told us that more of their staff have joined unions since the start of this dispute, clearly this is not a situation that will resolve itself.

“The Prime Minister has a choice to make, which is to either seek some resolution with the trade unions, or to jeopardise his commitment to cut NHS waiting lists.”

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive at NHS Providers, that represents hospital trusts, said:“Trust leaders have been bracing themselves for the outcome of the BMA’s ballot of junior doctors. Today’s overwhelming vote in favour of industrial action has confirmed these fears.

“An unprecedented 72-hour strike next month is extremely worrying as the NHS battles to cope with the effects of the most widespread industrial action in its history, soon to include a 48-hour walkout by nurses from 1 March.

“Leaders across the NHS are deeply concerned about the impact this will have on their ability to deliver care, especially as hospitals will now be left without emergency cover by junior doctors for three days straight.

“More than 140,000 appointments have already been postponed due to industrial action. This figure will rise significantly with the ramping up of walkouts from nurses, ambulance staff, and now junior doctors. An urgent resolution is needed if we are to prevent harm to patients and the NHS.

“Trust leaders will do everything they can to mitigate the impact of these strikes on services, but disruption is inevitable, and they’re worried it will hamper efforts to tackle care backlogs and meet elective targets.

“Nobody wants this, but burnt-out frontline staff feel they’ve been pushed to this point by challenges including the rising cost of living, below-inflation pay and vast workforce shortages.

“While we wait for the BMA to confirm the exact date of this walkout, it remains in the government’s gift to bring this spiralling disruption to an immediate end by talking to the unions about pay for this financial year.”

A smaller number of junior doctors in the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) have already said they will strike for the first time in the union's history next month in a dispute over pay.

Thousands of ambulance workers were staging a fresh strike on Monday in their long-running dispute over pay and staffing.

The GMB said more than 11,000 of its ambulance workers will walk out in England and Wales, including paramedics, emergency care assistants and call handlers, with ambulance workers in the Unite union in parts of the country also on strike.