Tens of thousands of junior doctors have started a three-day strike today (March 13) in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) in England have formed picket lines outside hospitals across the country, in what is said to be the longest-ever period of industrial action by junior doctors.
The strike, which began at 7am, is likely to affect every region in England, with consultants and other senior doctors being drafted in to provide cover.
Planned appointments are also likely to be postponed as the strikes are affecting services such as A&E, maternity care and cancer treatment.
NHS leaders have expressed serious concerns about patient safety during the strikes, saying they fear a significant impact on cancer care and backlog recovery, putting the government’s pledge to reduce waiting times at risk.
The BMA has told its members they do not need to inform employers whether they will be participating and advised consultants not to cancel any private work to cover rota gaps.
It agreed junior doctors will leave the picket line in the event of a mass casualty incident, as a terror attack, but said a trust declaring a critical incident due to pressures was not enough.
The BMA will be joined in the strike by juniors from the smaller Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association and the British Dental Association.
They are demanding “pay restoration” after cuts of 26% once inflation is taken into account since 2008. They said the 35% rise is needed to make up for the 26% cut.
Despite the massive industrial action, Steve Barclay, the health secretary, warned that meeting the demands would cost £2 billion was “simply unaffordable”.
In an article by The Telegraph, he said the scope of the strikes “presents a real risk to patient safety which should pose difficult ethical dilemmas for our hard-working junior doctors.”
On Friday, Barclay wrote to the BMA offering to enter formal pay negotiations on the condition strikes were paused.
The BMA said the offer came with unacceptable pre-conditions, understood to include that any deal would include a non-consolidated lump sum payment for last year.
The strike is a result of the efforts of Doctors Vote, a group formed on social media platform Reddit last year and went on to win more than half of the BMA junior doctor committee’s seats. The walkout was backed by 98% of junior doctors in a 77% turnout.
Responding to the junior doctors’ strike, Wes Streeting MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said:
“Rishi Sunak has learned nothing from his failed approach to strikes in the NHS, which have already led to 140,000 cancelled operations and appointments.
“He’s repeating the same mistakes again by refusing to negotiate with junior doctors, the very doctors who represent the future of the NHS.
“Patients won’t forgive Rishi Sunak for not even trying to stop these strikes going ahead, when they could be catastrophic for patient safety.”
Services unaffected by the strikes
- Emergency care
- People needing critical care, newborn baby care, and trauma care
- 111 services for urgent care
- GP services
- Some hospital dentists (check with your dentist to make sure)