Wes Streeting 'optimistic' Labour could resolve NHS strikes as junior doctors begin latest walkout

Junior doctors striking on the picket line outside the RVI Newcastle
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

Wes Streeting says he is “optimistic” of resolving the junior doctors' strike if Labour wins the election on July 4.

Speaking as medics began their latest five-day walkout across England, the shadow health secretary told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that his party was willing to negotiate on pay and the British Medical Association (BMA) had shown a “willingness” for talks. Junior doctors have called for a 35% pay increase and say their salaries have been cut by more than a quarter over the last 15 years.

Labour has insisted it will not meet the 35% demand, but has promised to open negotiations on July 5 if it succeeds at next week’s General Election. Mr Streeting told the LDRS on Thursday: “We have said very clearly to the BMA that we can’t meet them at 35%, which is their headline pay demand. But we would be willing to negotiate on pay and cut a deal on the wider terms and conditions that junior doctors suffer.

“And the BMA have shown a willingness to negotiate on pay. Therein lies the opportunity to strike a deal, as we have seen in other parts of the country. I feel optimistic that we can get the right outcome, not least because patients have suffered during these strikes. So too have junior doctors, out of pocket.

“I think it is in everyone’s interest for these strikes to come to an end. People can judge the Conservatives on their record and Labour on ours – we didn’t have national strikes in the NHS during the last Labour government because we treated staff with respect. And because we got the economy growing we could make sure we also invested in the pay of our workforce without having to hike up people’s taxes, while the Conservatives have delivered a low-growth economy, a high-tax economy and they have kept people’s pay down. That has been at the heart of this dispute.”

The five-day strike from June 27 to July 2 is the 11th walkout since the dispute began. The BMA said last week that it would call off the strike action if Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a written commitment to restoring pay.

BMA junior doctors committee co-chairs Vivek Trivedi and Rob Laurenson called for Mr Sunak to deliver a “detailed pathway that will restore our pay in the form of a comprehensive deal that will be implemented if you are able to form the next Government”. They said in a letter: “We are not asking for the world, and we do not expect pay restoration overnight.

"A doctor currently starts on £15.53 per hour and we are asking for that to be restored to what a doctor was worth in 2008, which would be £21.58 per hour. ‘As we have repeatedly said, we are happy to have that restoration process occur over time – we have not called for it all in one go.”

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, called for the next government to “hit the ground running” by resolving the pay dispute. He added: "A week before the country goes to the polls, patients are likely to see tens of thousands more appointments postponed on top of the 1.5m operations, scans and other care hit by industrial action across the NHS since December 2022.

"All parties have put the NHS high on the political agenda with pledges to cut waiting times and give patients greater access to care. None of this can be achieved, though, without a thriving NHS workforce. Staff are the lifeblood of the NHS but almost a year on from publication of the long-term workforce plan, trusts are still grappling with staff burnout and lots of unfilled jobs. Failure to resolve strike action by junior doctors has caused huge disruption to patient care.

"It's vital that the next government hits the ground running, investing in the workforce to restore staff confidence and reset the relationship with NHS employees. Otherwise political ambitions are at risk of being beyond reach."