Junior doctors in England have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes, in a further escalation of the dispute between the UK government and NHS staff over pay and working conditions.
The British Medical Association on Monday said that, on a turnout of 77.49 per cent, 98 per cent of members had backed plans for a 72-hour walkout, the highest ever number.
Some 97 per cent of junior doctors affiliated with the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) also voted to strike on March 15.
The results of the two ballots came as over 11,000 ambulance workers, paramedics and call handlers represented by the GMB and Unite unions walked out across England and Wales amid calls for pay deals linked to inflation, which stands at 10.1 per cent.
And police chiefs across England and Wales warned ministers in a rare joint statement of the dire impact of real-terms pay cuts on forces.
The strikes by junior doctors will mark only the second walkout by that section of the NHS workforce in its 74-year history. The BMA, whose members are expected to strike in March, said its aim was in part to secure “full pay restoration” because junior doctors had “experienced a 26 per cent real-terms pay cut since 2008”.
Health secretary Steve Barclay described the BMA and HCSA’s announcements as “deeply disappointing”, saying the government valued the work of junior doctors and wanted to continue to address wider concerns around workload and pay.
“As part of a multiyear deal we agreed with the BMA, junior doctors’ pay has increased by a cumulative 8.2 per cent since 2019-20,” he said. “We also introduced a higher pay band for the most experienced staff and increased rates for night shifts.”
But Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairs of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, said “the government has only itself to blame” for “standing by in silent indifference”.
“We have voted in our thousands to say, ‘in the name of our profession, our patients, and our NHS, doctors won’t take it anymore’.”
Calling on the government to view the ballot outcomes as a “wake-up call”, HCSA president Dr Naru Narayanan said there was “huge anger” among junior doctors over understaffing and low pay.
Saffron Cordery, deputy head of NHS Providers, which represents health groups across England, warned that sector leaders were “deeply concerned” about the impact of further strikes on patient care.
“Nobody wants this, but burnt-out frontline staff feel they’ve been pushed to this point,” she said, adding that it was still “in the government’s gift to bring this spiralling disruption to an immediate end by talking to the unions about pay for this financial year”.
Meanwhile, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police and Crime Commissioners Association warned that real-terms cuts to police pay were undermining the impact of a continuing recruitment drive amid collapsing morale and high staff turnover.
The police, like the armed forces, are legally forbidden from taking strike action.
Releasing the results of a survey of members, PSA president Paul Fotheringham said his association had “serious concerns about the future of UK policing.”
“If we look at the situation facing police officers — a 17 per cent pay cut since 2010, no fair process to decide their pay, no right to withhold labour and horrific stories of misconduct being shared — it is no surprise that our members are painting the worst picture of life as a police officer that we have recorded to date,” he said.
In response, the Home Office said: “We recognise the increased pressures with cost of living which is why we accepted the police remuneration review body’s recommendation to award a consolidated increase of £1,900 to all ranks of police officers.”