Junior doctors rebuff Health Secretary’s plea to call off 72-hour strike
Junior doctors in the British Medical Association (BMA) have refused to call off next week’s three-day strike amid a bitter dispute over pay.
They were responding to Health Secretary Steve Barclay’s invitation to enter formal pay talks, extended late on Friday night on the basis that the planned industrial action is cancelled.
The BMA junior doctors said they were disappointed by the “offer of talks being made so late, and with preconditions that would be completely unacceptable to our members”.
In a letter to Mr Barclay on Saturday, co-chairs of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, Dr Vivek Trivedi and Dr Robert Laurenson, wrote: “We remain open to entering talks with Government anytime and anywhere to bring this dispute to a swift resolution and restore the pay that junior doctors have lost.
“We would encourage you to reconsider the preconditions that are currently preventing talks from taking place.
“As you have known for more than two weeks, our strikes will commence on Monday. And you also know, until we have a credible offer, we are not in a position to call them off.”
They also described Mr Barclay’s 11th-hour offer as “a feeble attempt to stall us, to kick the can down the road, to delay an actual meaningful conversation”.
I’ve written to @BMA_JuniorDocs inviting them for formal pay talks on the same basis other health unions accepted, including calling off next week’s strike.
Let’s have a constructive dialogue to make the NHS a better place to work and ensure we deliver the care patients need.
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) March 10, 2023
The Health Secretary said he had proposed negotiations “on the same basis other health unions accepted”, after planned industrial action by tens of thousands of key workers was suspended when the Government agreed to discuss pay for this year.
Unions representing ambulance workers, physiotherapists, nurses and midwives have been in talks with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) since Tuesday.
But the discussions have not involved BMA junior doctors, who are still due to walk out for 72 hours on Monday.
Mr Barclay tweeted on Friday night: “I’ve written to @BMA_JuniorDocs inviting them for formal pay talks on the same basis other health unions accepted, including calling off next week’s strike.
“Let’s have a constructive dialogue to make the NHS a better place to work and ensure we deliver the care patients need.”
BMA junior doctors noted that the Health Secretary did not attend talks on Friday.
Nearly 40,000 junior doctors voted to take industrial action in the BMA ballot.
NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said: “It is deeply disappointing that even at this late stage there is no real prospect of meaningful talks between the Government and the British Medical Association to avert the forthcoming industrial action.
“This is a setback for the NHS. The people who will suffer will be patients facing yet more disruption, and staff whose morale will take a further hit.”
Dr Laurenson and Dr Trivedi told The Times that doctors were willing to keep striking until they got “full pay restoration” — a 35% rise – and future strikes could last longer than 72 hours.
They also pledged to re-ballot members if their demand for pay restoration to 2008 levels has not been achieved when the union’s current six-month strike mandate runs out in August.
A call to “redouble efforts to enter negotiations and avoid industrial action” has been made by Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of NHS Confederation, and Will Warburton, managing director of the Shelford Group – a collaboration of 10 of the largest teaching and research NHS hospital trusts in England.
Join the picket line on Monday – help us demonstrate our unity and strength in pursuit of full pay restoration. Find one close to you using https://t.co/6gKf8OZiAP pic.twitter.com/5ImjQdgkVR
— Junior Doctors (@BMA_JuniorDocs) March 11, 2023
In a joint letter to the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, they said there had been “encouraging signs of engagement from the Government and unions to resolve differences and avert further industrial action in the NHS” but “unfortunately, we are not seeing a similar dialogue with doctors”.
They said they understood doctors’ frustrations over “the way their pay has lagged behind inflation in recent years, while their workloads have increased”, but said it was not too late “for all sides to realise the harm a strike will do”.
NHS England has expressed concern about the impact of the strikes on emergency care and efforts to tackle waiting lists.
Chief strategy officer Chris Hopson told a summit last week that he expected the strikes to have a “bigger and wider spread” than any walkouts so far.
On Thursday, the Government said negotiations with other health unions had been constructive and will carry on into next week.
Four of the unions involved, GMB, Unison, Unite, and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, called off strike action in order to facilitate the ongoing talks.
The Royal College of Nursing also averted strikes at the beginning of March when they entered into pay negotiation with the Government.