Steve Barclay criticises 'increasing militancy' of NHS strikes as consultants walk out

Health Secretary Steve Barclay has criticised the "increasing militancy" and "politically" motivated strikes, and said that is why new legislation to curtail walkouts is being introduced.

Mr Barclay was speaking as consultants took industrial action today, with junior doctors set to join them tomorrow in the first joint strike in NHS history.

The government is consulting on adding requirements for medical staff to provide minimum service levels during strike days, adding to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act passed earlier this year. This legislation introduced minimum service levels for sectors like rail workers.

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Speaking to Sky News, Mr Barclay said that the "Christmas Day" service levels provided on strike days do not "get the balance right".

He said: "And we've seen this escalation increasing militancy, a desire politically to time strikes, including with the Conservative Party conference to refuse exemptions that have been agreed locally by their own representatives, as we saw in some cases in August.

"And also it's very difficult for the NHS leaders to plan if they don't know until the last minute what exemptions are going to be in place or not."

Junior doctors, who are striking during the governing party's conference, are calling for "pay restoration" to 2008 levels, equivalent to a 35% rise. Consultants are looking for an above-inflation pay rise.

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Dr Tom Dolphin, a member of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, told Sky News: "If you bring in the legislation to try and crush a very legitimate dispute like this, it doesn't end the dispute, it just suppresses it and saves up problems for later."

Labour has pledged to repeal the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.

Mr Barclay said: "We've accepted in full the recommendations of the independent pay review body.

"That means a junior doctor starting in the wards this summer will be getting a pay rise of up to 10.3%. The average for junior doctors is 8.8%, which is, I suspect, more than many of your viewers themselves are receiving.

"We also responded to the BMA's number one ask, which was for very significant changes to pension taxation, which the government has agreed to, which is an extremely generous uplift.

"But we also need to be fair to other workers, other the workers across the public sector in terms of how we bring inflation down and manage the costs of that, whether that's in our armed forces, our teachers elsewhere within the NHS."

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Consultants are walking out in a long-running dispute over pay on Tuesday and Wednesday this week as well as on 2, 3 and 4 October.

Junior doctors, who have held 19 days of strike action since March, will walk out on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, and on 2,3 and 4 October.