Senior doctors in England reject pay deal in narrow vote

Junior and senior doctors in England take part in a joint strike action for the first time in pay dispute

By Sachin Ravikumar

LONDON (Reuters) -Senior doctors in England have narrowly voted to reject a pay deal which would have ended months of disruptive strike action, their trade union, the British Medical Association (BMA), said on Thursday, in a blow to the government.

Strikes by doctors have heaped more pressure on an already overburdened National Health Service (NHS), where more than 7 million patients on waiting lists seek treatment, leading to thousands of cancelled appointments and procedures.

A prolonged pay dispute with healthcare staff will hinder Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's ability to meet one of his key pledges, of cutting those waiting lists, ahead of an election expected later this year.

The doctors voted 51.1% against the pay offer, the BMA said.

"The vote has shown that consultants do not feel the current offer goes far enough to end the current dispute and offer a long-term solution to the recruitment and retention crisis for senior doctors," BMA consultants committee chair Vishal Sharma said.

"However, with the result so close, the consultants committee is giving the Government a chance to improve the offer."

The rejected agreement sought to reform the pay structure for senior doctors, known as consultants, by reducing the number of pay brackets and the time it takes to reach the top, and making a clearer link between pay progression and experience .

Britain's health minister Victoria Atkins said the government was disappointed at the doctors' rejection of what she called a "fair and reasonable" offer.

"I want to build on our progress on waiting lists and for us all to be able to focus our efforts on offering patients the highest quality care. The government is therefore carefully considering next steps," Atkins said.

A separate long-running dispute with junior doctors over pay also remains ongoing.

Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of workers, including nurses, teachers and railway workers, have taken strike action in the last two years, disrupting key public services, as a cost-of-living crisis spurs demands by employees for better pay.

The BMA said it would engage further with consultants and seek talks with the government in the coming days.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Sachin Ravikumar; editing by William James and Deepa Babington)