walkout by senior NHS doctors in England continues on Friday as the Government shows no sign of backing down in the bitter row over pay.
The strike by British Medical Association consultants began at 7am on Thursday, with NHS chiefs warning patients would face “severe delays” as a result.
Consultants will be operating on a “Christmas day cover” basis – meaning emergency care will still be provided – until 7am on Saturday.
Industrial action by senior doctors shows no sign of slowing down; they have already threatened to strike again for two days from September 19 and announced strikes for October 2, 3 and 4 – during the Tory party conference – if the Government continues to refuse talks.
But ministers have insisted that negotiations on pay are over after consultants were given a 6% rise.
The BMA has condemned the increase as “insulting”, claiming consultants have experienced a “35% pay erosion” over the last 14 years. The union is also calling for reform of the medics’ pay review body.
Vishal Sharma, chairman of the BMA consultants committee, said: “We would much rather be inside the hospital seeing our patients.
“But we cannot sit by and watch passively as we are persistently devalued, undermined and forced to watch colleagues leave – much to the detriment of the NHS and patients.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he was “concerned and disappointed” that the BMA has gone ahead with the industrial action “which will continue to affect patients and hamper efforts to cut NHS waiting lists”.
He added: This pay award is final and I urge the BMA to call an end to strikes.”
NHS Providers chief executive Julian Hartley said the strike, leading into a bank holiday weekend, was occurring when many staff were on leave and it was becoming “harder and more expensive” to put in place contingency plans to cope with repeated waves of industrial action in the health service.
He said it was “vital that talks between Government and unions resume”.
People should continue to use 999 for life-threatening emergencies and NHS 111 for other health concerns, officials said. GP surgeries and pharmacies are largely unaffected.