• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Sunak stalled deal to resolve doctors’ strikes, report says

The prime minister’s apprehension about setting a precedent for pay increases across the health service is said to be delaying a resolution

Junior doctors and consultants picket outside University College Hospital at the beginning of a three-day strike over pay, on October 02, 2023, in London, England (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

Allegations have surfaced that prime minister Rishi Sunak is the primary obstacle in resolving the ongoing doctors’ strikes in England, a situation that is exacerbating the NHS waiting lists crisis, an exclusive report in The Guardian said.

Despite repeated warnings from health officials and NHS England, Sunak’s apprehension about setting a precedent for pay increases across the health service is said to be delaying a resolution.

The deadlock has resulted from Sunak’s reluctance to offer a more substantial deal to both consultants and junior doctors, fearing it might trigger similar demands from other health workers, notably nurses.

This standstill comes amid a series of strikes by junior doctors following unsuccessful negotiations between the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), where the government’s proposals were deemed insufficient.

Moreover, consultants have also turned down the government’s latest pay proposal, calling for a better offer. Continuous discussions are still happening in hopes of a breakthrough.

It has been reported that Sunak was consistently reminded in meetings with NHS England and the DHSC that NHS waiting list targets would be unachievable without resolving the strikes.

Documents marked “official sensitive” explicitly state that waiting lists will not decrease if industrial actions persist.

On Monday (5), Sunak admitted his inability to fulfill a crucial pledge of reducing NHS waiting lists, a commitment he positioned as a significant measure of his performance upon assuming office. Contrary to his promises, the scenario in England has deteriorated further.

Admitting to his failure to reduce waiting lists, Sunak conceded in a TalkTV interview with Piers Morgan, saying, “Yes, we have [failed].” He later suggested that the NHS strikes were to blame for the worsening situation.

There’s speculation that Health Secretary Victoria Atkins was ready to engage in further negotiations but was held back by Downing Street, which insisted that discussions could only proceed if the strikes were suspended.

Inside sources claim that the dispute encompasses broader issues than pay, including working conditions. Former Health Secretary Steve Barclay reportedly urged Sunak to resolve the conflict but lacked the authority to act independently.

According to NHS insiders, the strikes are significantly impeding efforts to reduce waiting lists, with more than 1.3 million appointments rescheduled due to industrial action. Despite a slight decrease in waiting lists during a pause in strikes, the overall impact remains substantial.

The BMA asserts that doctors are already exceeding their duties and blames the prime minister for the prolonged dispute, suggesting that a reasonable pay offer would allow doctors to focus on reducing waiting lists.

Officials close to Sunak reported that he insists on spending of taxpayer money carefully, leading to his hesitation in approving a larger settlement.

However, critics argue this approach is misguided, pointing out that the cost for additional NHS staffing due to the strikes reached £2 billion by early December and is anticipated to climb to £3 billion, surpassing the amount needed to resolve the conflict.

A DHSC spokesperson said that junior doctors received an average pay raise of 8.8% and additional investment offers were made during negotiations. The department remains hopeful for a resolution, urging the BMA to prioritise patient care and reduce waiting times.

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