UK hospital doctors commence 72-hour walkout over pay
Health secretary Steve Barclay expressed disappointment with the strikes, characterising them as a risk to patients and efforts to reduce waiting lists.
Junior doctors take part in industrial action outside Huddersfield Royal Infirmary on April 12, 2023 in Huddersfield, England (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Hospital doctors in England have embarked on a new 72-hour strike over pay, commencing on Wednesday (14). This action has raised concerns among health officials, who anticipate significant disruptions to patient care and healthcare services.
The strike, led by junior doctors below the consultant level, commenced at 7:00 am (0600 GMT) and is scheduled to continue until Saturday.
According to the British Medical Association’s Junior Doctors Committee, medical professionals have experienced a real-terms pay reduction of 26 per cent over the past 15 years, as their salaries have failed to keep pace with the rising inflation.
They are advocating for a restoration of pay levels to those of 2008-2009.
However, the government contends that fulfilling this demand would necessitate an average pay increase of approximately 35 per cent this year, which it considers financially burdensome.
This strike is the latest in a series of labour actions within the state-funded National Health Service (NHS), as nurses and other medical staff have also engaged in protests for higher wages.
While the BMA remains open to further negotiations, they have warned that if the government maintains its offer of a five per cent pay increase, additional strikes will take place in the coming months.
NHS England’s national medical director, Stephen Powis, issued a warning on Tuesday (13), stating that the ongoing strike action could potentially impact a significant portion of routine or pre-planned medical care.
The previous strike in April resulted in the rescheduling of 196,000 hospital appointments and operations.
“It (the strike) will have an enormous impact on routine care for patients and on the waiting list, as procedures can take time to rearrange with multiple teams involved,” he said.
In terms of care prioritisation, Powis, emphasised that emergency, urgent, and critical care would receive precedence during the strike.
The heads of hospitals have urged both parties to find common ground as they grapple with substantial treatment backlogs intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the British Medical Association (BMA), a record-breaking seven million individuals were awaiting medical treatment as of April, with nearly three million of them waiting for over 18 months.
The BMA also highlighted deteriorating wait times for initial appointments and cancer treatments.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay expressed disappointment with the strikes, characterising them as a risk to patients and efforts to reduce waiting lists.
“If the BMA cancels these damaging and disruptive strikes and shows willingness to move significantly from their position, we can resume confidential talks and find a way forward, as we have done with other unions,” he added.
On Tuesday, junior doctors in Scotland declined the Scottish Government’s proposed pay increase, which was described as its “final” offer of a 14.5 per cent raise over a span of two years.
In response, the BMA Scotland announced that its members would engage in a strike from July 12 to 15.
Health policy in the UK is managed separately by the governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, with the UK government in London overseeing matters pertaining to England.
While UK annual inflation experienced a slowdown to a 13-month low in April, it remains relatively high at 8.7 per cent due to surging food prices compensating for lower energy costs.
Official data for inflation in May is expected to be released next week.