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Junior doctors in England will join consultants in the first co-ordinated strike action by both groups of medics in the NHS’s 75-year history, a dramatic escalation of their dispute with the government over pay.
The first of the mass walkouts, which were branded “callous and calculated” by health secretary Stephen Barclay, will take place on September 20, followed by a three-day strike between October 2 and 4 during the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference.
The BMA, the doctors’ union, said its members would only offer an emergency “Christmas Day” service over the four days, while both groups of clinicians also planned further separate industrial action.
The union announced the co-ordinated move after junior doctors voted 98 per cent in favour of continuing their strike action, which first began in March, in a ballot with a turnout of 71 per cent. The consultants had announced their October strike dates last week.
The escalation will further dent prime minister Rishi Sunak’s hopes of calling the next general election — expected next year — on the back of falling waiting NHS lists from a record high of 7.6mn.
Julian Hartley, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents health organisations across England, said the mass walkout would be “an unprecedented challenge”. He pointed out that, as well as the joint action, consultants planned to strike on September 19, while junior doctors were set to walk out on September 21 and 22.
He said nearly 1mn appointments had been postponed since the wave of industrial action in the NHS started in December when the nurses, who have now settled, first walked out.
Barclay described the junior doctors’ renewed strike mandate as “extremely disappointing”. He said it would “weigh heavily on the minds of their NHS colleagues and patients — both of whom are shouldering the brunt of the BMA’s relentless and now co-ordinated strike action”.
The government has accepted the independent pay review body’s recommendation of a 6 per cent increase plus an additional payment of £1,250 consolidated into base pay for the junior doctors, who have demanded a 35 per cent increase.
Dr Rob Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, the junior doctors committee co-chairs, urged Sunak to intervene. “The prime minister has the power to halt any further action by making us a credible offer that we can put to our members. Refusing to negotiate with us and with our consultant colleagues is not the way ahead”.
Barclay said his door was “always open to discuss how we can work together with NHS staff to improve their working lives”. But he has refused to discuss pay, insisting the review body’s award was final.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, described the joint action as “the nightmare scenario that NHS leaders have long feared”. It was “a step too far and will cause unnecessary delays and distress to patients”, he added.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “The failure of the prime minister and his health secretary to sit down and talk to doctors has now led to the most severe strike action yet.”