unior doctors in England are to stage a five-day strike next month in a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the Government over pay and staffing.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) will walk out from July 13 to 18 in what the association said is thought to be the longest single period of industrial action in the history of the health service.
The announcement was made as a BMA survey showed that junior doctors report being inundated with more opportunities to move abroad in the last four months than ever before.
Just over half of the nearly 2,000 junior doctors surveyed said they have received more job advertisements from recruiters to overseas jobs since strikes were announced.
Even now the Government can avert our action by coming to the table with a credible offer on pay restoration
The government of South Australia even paid for trucks to be sent to junior doctor picket lines carrying job adverts offering improved pay if those doctors emigrated, it was revealed.
Co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors committee Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi said: “The NHS is one of this country’s proudest achievements and it is shameful that we have a Government seemingly content to let it decline to the point of collapse with decades of real-terms pay cuts to doctors driving them away.
“With the 75th birthday of the NHS just days away, neglect of its workforce has left us with 7.4 million people on waiting lists for surgery and procedures, 8,500 unfilled doctors’ posts in hospitals, and doctors who can barely walk down the road without a foreign government tempting them to leave an NHS where they are paid £14 per hour for a country which will pay them properly.
“It has been almost a week since the last round of strikes finished but not once have we heard from Rishi Sunak or Steve Barclay in terms of reopening negotiations since their collapse of our talks and cancelling all scheduled meetings a month ago.
“What better indication of how committed they are to ending this dispute could we have? As their refusal to even discuss pay restoration leads to continued disruption to the health service, more than four-fifths of junior doctors report finding their patients supportive – they understand the value of a fully staffed and resourced NHS.
“We are announcing the longest single walkout by doctors in the NHS’s history – but this is not a record that needs to go into the history books.
“Even now the Government can avert our action by coming to the table with a credible offer on pay restoration.
“Restoring pay can stem the flow of Australian job adverts in doctors’ social media feeds – and lead to a future 75 years of doctors being paid fairly, in a rebuilt workforce and NHS that this country can continue to be proud of.”
Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “Trust leaders, staff and patients will have that sinking feeling at the prospect of five straight days of strike disruption, the longest-ever single period of industrial action in the history of the NHS.
“After a three-day walkout by junior doctors already this month, forcing more than 100,000 more procedures and appointments to be rescheduled (more than 651,000 in total since December) and with nurses, radiographers and consultants – who could strike for two days in July – being balloted too this figure is bound to rise by many thousands more.
“Trust leaders’ priority throughout any industrial action will remain to keep patients safe and deliver high-quality care but this is getting tougher the longer strikes persist, and it’s getting more and more expensive to find cover for staff on picket lines.
“This can’t go on and become ‘business as usual’. We urge the Government and unions to break the deadlock and enter arbitration to find a way to end disruptive strikes.”
Downing Street said the planned strike action is concerning.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It puts patient safety and our efforts to cut waiting lists at risk. It is obviously extremely disappointing.
“In the meeting the Government had with junior doctors, we made a fair and reasonable opening offer.
“We were discussing both pay and non-pay issues. But they chose to end the talks by announcing new strike dates.
“Obviously if they cancel the damaging and disruptive strikes and show willingness to move away from their starting positions and find a way forward, then we will be able to proceed with those discussions.”
The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) said its members working as junior doctors in England will also strike from July 13 to 18.
Its Junior Doctors Committee co-chairman Dr Karim Salem said: “The Government’s response to our repeated attempts to find a fair settlement has been to hope we just go away, but junior doctors aren’t going anywhere, and we won’t be silenced.
“We shouldn’t have been driven to this point, and there’s still time to avoid these strikes.
“Junior doctors, our senior colleagues, NHS trust leaders, our patients – everyone is telling the Government the same thing. They need to get serious, get round the table and end this dispute.”
HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said: “This is a historic escalation of strike action by junior doctors that speaks to the level of crisis successive governments have allowed to take hold in our NHS.
“There is still time for the Government to recognise its responsibility and address more than a decade of real-terms pay cuts. No more ducking, no more bluster – we need to see a meaningful offer from the Government on pay restoration.”