Doctors have vowed to strike “until the next general election and beyond” in their dispute with the Government over pay.
The call was made as thousands of medics travelled to a protest rally in the centre of Manchester, organised by the British Medical Association (BMA) to coincide with the Conservative Party conference also taking place in the city.
It comes amid the longest-ever joint strike by junior doctors and consultants in England.
In his speech, BMA council chairman Professor Philip Banfield said: “We will strike until the next general election and beyond if that is what it takes.
“But our patients need the PM to meet with us now; restore the value of pay, now; make a credible offer, now; end these disputes, now.”
He told the PA news agency he is confident the BMA will get a mandate from members to continue industrial action.
Prof Banfield said: “The members have been unequivocal and they are incredibly organised and really determined.
“They feel that this is a once-in-a-generation time to alter the future for doctors, and for patients. We just cannot put up any longer with driving doctors at all levels away.
“It is not just disappointing, it’s completely ridiculous that a Government with responsibility for a health service is treating its experts in this way.”
Junior doctors and consultants walked out together for a second spell of co-ordinated industrial action at 7am on Monday.
They will work on a “Christmas Day cover” basis until 7am on Thursday.
Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said he finds it “surprising” the Government is “still unwilling” to negotiate.
“Ultimately, we know what the effects of year-on-year pay cuts are to our workforce’s morale, retention, and now actually even recruitment,” he told PA.
“If the Government wants to have any sort of workforce in the future to be able to treat patients in a timely manner, then we need to do something to fix that. It’s just so surprising that they’re still unwilling to talk about how we can end this dispute.”
Strikes have been ongoing in the NHS since December 2022, leading to the cancellation or postponement of almost 1.1 million appointments.
Waiting lists for elective treatment on the NHS currently stand at a record 7.7 million.
Mr Trivedi said the disruption to appointments is “wholly the Government’s fault”.
He said: “It was completely within their power to stop any strike action from ever happening if they had just treated our profession with respect and came to the table at the start to negotiate and put an offer on the table.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has insisted strikes are the “number one reason” for record NHS waiting times.
He was challenged over the claim on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Tuesday, but said the Government had “stabilised” backlogs, which were “forecast to start going down until industrial action started”.
Prof Banfield said he is “really sorry” to patients but “an enormous number of appointments and operations are cancelled every day for lack of resources and staff and a lack of investment in the NHS”.
“We are making this stand now in order to get better investment so we can crack on with the waiting list and get people the treatment that they need,” he added.
Junior doctors are demanding a 35% hike in pay while consultants are calling for a rise in line with inflation, as well as an overhaul of the independent pay review body.
During the summer, the Government said consultants would get a 6% wage rise, with junior doctors also receiving 6% and £1,250, in line with recommendations from independent pay review bodies.
Earlier this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the deal was “fair and reasonable” and reiterated the Government’s stance that there will be no more talks on pay.
Prof Banfield said the union is “always in a process of putting feelers out” to Government, because it feels “there is a deal to be done”.
However, he added that it is “very difficult to have a pay dispute with someone who doesn’t want to talk about pay”.
“We’ve exposed how disingenuous their offer of an open door has been because clearly it’s not open,” Prof Banfield said.
On Tuesday, consultant members of the BMA invited ministers to enter talks through conciliation service Acas, saying they will hold off announcing further strike action for four weeks “to facilitate negotiations taking place”.
The union claims Mr Barclay has “refused” to meet with them for 190 days.
Members of the Society of Radiographers (SoR), who also went on strike from 8am on Tuesday, attended the rally alongside medics.
Leandre Archer, head of industrial relations at the SoR, told PA: “We’re calling for better pay and conditions, we’re calling for the crisis in the workforce to be addressed.
“We’ve got one million people on waiting lists in England for diagnostic imaging, but yet we haven’t got enough radiographers to deal with those numbers.”
Ms Archer also claimed there is “massive public support” for striking radiographers, adding: “Patients know we’re taking a stand for them.”