Start of latest junior doctors’ strikes ‘a profoundly demoralising moment’

Start of latest junior doctors’ strikes ‘a profoundly demoralising moment’

The start of another junior doctors’ strike is “a profoundly demoralising moment” for the health service, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation has said.

Matthew Taylor urged the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Government to “be imaginative” to find a resolution in the long-running dispute.

Junior doctors in England began a five-day strike in their pay row with the Government at 7am on Saturday.

Thousands of medics have walked out until 11.59pm on Wednesday.

As the strike was due to begin, Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said the BMA junior doctors committee had “refused to put our offer to their members” and called for more talks with the union.

She said junior doctors had been told the Government was “prepared to go further than the pay increase of up to 10.3% that they have already received”.

Speaking to Sky News on Saturday, Mr Taylor said: “I don’t think it helps anyone to try to cast blame. The reality is this is a profoundly demoralising moment for us in the health service, to have another five days of junior doctor strikes.

“We know what the consequences of these strikes are… many appointments operations will have been cancelled, others will have to be cancelled, although I would say to people out there that if you have not been told that your appointment has been cancelled, then assume it will go ahead.

“I think what we would say to both sides is don’t stand on ceremony – be imaginative. Maybe it’s time for both sides to tell us what they would accept.

(PA Graphics)

“We kind of know what both sides say that they want, but what would they accept? What compromise would be acceptable?”

Junior doctors in England staged the longest strike in NHS history in January, for six days from January 3 to January 9.

The latest round will be the 10th strike by junior doctors since March last year.

The BMA has been asking for 35% “pay restoration” as its starting position, but says it is willing to negotiate.

Mr Taylor said: “What’s frustrating is, in the last round of strikes it did seem to be a moment where compromise was possible, where it felt as though the junior doctors were recognising that they wouldn’t get that 35% in one leap and that the Government was recognising they had to put more money on the table and had to have a strategy for the medium term to help junior doctors’ pay start to recover.”

He said the confederation could “broadly see the terrain” on which an agreement with the Government could be reached, but added that the latest strikes would affect accident and emergency and make services more difficult to cover.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairmen Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “The Government could have stopped these strikes by simply making a credible pay offer for junior doctors in England to begin reversing the pay cuts they have inflicted upon us for more than a decade.

“The same Government could have even accepted our offer to delay this round of strike action to give more space for talks, all we asked for in return was a short extension of our mandate to strike.

“The fact that ministers have chosen strike action over what could have been the end of this year’s pay dispute is disappointing, to say the least.”

Ms Atkins said people should not overlook the impact the strikes could have on the NHS, adding: “I want to see doctors treating patients, not standing on picket lines.

“More than 1.3 million appointments and operations have already been cancelled or rescheduled since industrial action began. Five days of further action will compound this.

“The NHS has robust contingency plans in place, and it is vital that people continue to come forward for treatment.

Cabinet meeting
Victoria Atkins (Victoria Jones/PA)

“But no one should underestimate the impact these strikes have on our NHS.

“So again, I urge the BMA junior doctors committee to call off their strikes and show they are prepared to be reasonable, so that we can come back to the negotiating table to find a fair way forward.”

Thousands of NHS appointments and operations are likely to be cancelled during the fresh round of strikes, after the six-day strike in January saw more than 100,000 appointments put on hold.

Junior doctors, who have received a pay rise averaging nearly 9% this financial year, make up around half of the NHS doctor workforce.

They can have up to nine years of working experience as a hospital doctor, depending on their specialty, or up to five years to become a GP.

Junior doctor members of the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) are also set to walk out until Thursday.